PLYMOUTH — While the weather has decided to return us to winter for a little while the preparation of spring sports at Plymouth continues to ramp up.
Pilgrim baseball coach Ryan Wolfe is anxious to see what he has after a year off.
“We got all the way up to the day before we were supposed to start last year,” he said. “I’ve missed talking baseball, anything that goes around baseball. I did get a little taste of it with my sons last summer. They were able to play a little bit sparingly but the kids and the coaches and the fans and the parents, I’ve missed all of it.”
“The IHSAA allows us to work with them (players) twice a week for about two hours, they did throw in some conditioning for arm care so we could actually pick up a ball and throw it more often than that, we just can’t pick up a bat or pitch off a mound more than that,” said Wolfe.
With nearly all of that time indoors it’s hard to gauge what his team will look like on the field. Three seniors are gone from last year’s roster, Thomas Dolan, Grant Dexter, and Kam VanLue. Dolan is now playing at Bethel and Dexter at Huntington.
“We are probably spending more time evaluating than ever before with all the unknown and that’s what we are looking at the first couple weeks of practice,” said Wolfe. “I don’t know. As guys trickle in after the winter sports seasons we had some ideas but nothing is set.”
The loss of skills and even more so some intangibles is the big question.
“We are fortunate that we had a number of kids that were able to play last summer with their travel teams which helps,” said Wolfe. “I think the biggest thing is just learning and understanding the game. We take pride in teaching the game the right way and when you are in our program you know things like the proper way to approach an at-bat. Hopefully, by the time they reach the varsity level they have all that.”
“Going into last year we had just lost a very veteran team and we coached them a little differently than we would a younger group,” said Wolfe. “We were excited about being able to coach the younger guys last year. Not that we didn’t coach the other guys but it’s just a different animal. Now we have another group coming in and we’re even further behind but that’s the part of the game I love the most. Teaching them the how’s and the why’s of what we do and the culture that we have.”
“Our practice organization is even more vital now and as we head into the early part of the season to try and figure some things out.”
The emphasis on little things has already started.
“The other day and I got fed up with the way they were all playing catch,” said Wolfe. “Just little things like that. Veteran teams understand the importance of something like that.”
“We have some great kids with a great amount of talent and I’m excited about them,” he said. “But it’s just little things like that — if you do them better than the other teams you are probably going to win a lot of the grey areas and win a lot of ballgames.”
Wolfe has two players he has at least some familiarity with.
“Ivan Winkle and Matt Dobuck have played a significant amount of innings as sophomores,catcher’sd. “Ivan was our shortstop and Matt pitched and played first for us. Matt is going to hit in the middle of the order and hopefully eat up a lot of innings for us on the mound.”
From there it’s talented inexperience.
“Tanner Feece and Skyler Aker are going to see a significant amount of time on the mound,” said Wolfe. “Skyler was probably our best pitcher on the JV as a freshman. Tanner has spent a lot of time in the weight room and he’s grown. He’ll play in the outfield for us and pitch.”
“Cam Weidner will be a utility guy,” said Wolfe. “We actually threw the catchers gear on him the other night. Caden Weidner and Brady Pittman will be a big part. We have a couple of sophomores — Cam Shively and Matt Manzuk — who baseball is their passion. They played all summer last year and are looking to do something for us.”
That doesn’t those are the only players looking at a varsity roster spot.
“There’s a lot of other guys competing and I’m not joking when I say we may not even know who is on what team until game one,” he said. “We usually after a few practices have an idea but I really don’t know. That’s a good thing and a bad thing all at once.”
The uncertainty will have to be solved by April 7 as the Pilgrims open at St. Joe, the first in a very tough NLC and non-conference schedule.
“(In the NLC) Northridge is always going to be good, NorthWood is always going to be good,” said Wolfe. “I feel Warsaw will be getting better, they know what they are doing. Wawasee lost some pitchers, Concord has a new coach, and bringing in Mishawaka — that’s the team that has beaten us three of the last four years in the sectional.”
“I love the conference, I love the compeitiveness of the conference,” he said. “When you sprinkle in all these non-conference teams playing those teams is good for our guys. To prepare for the sectional I couldn’t ask for a better schedule.”