At the beginning of Alex’s final season at Maryland, the culture and mindset of the Terps lead them to the start they were looking for in the 2015 season.
Over the summer of 2014, the University of Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for the BIG10 Conference. I wasn’t really sure how to feel about the switch. Playing in the ACC was one of the main reasons I decided to commit to Maryland. I wanted to play the best of the best and the ACC arguably had the best baseball, with schools like Florida State, University of Virginia, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Being from New York, I thought that Maryland was in the “south” and I knew we’d be playing in warm weather for most of the season in states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. After joining the BIG10, we play schools like Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State in the mid-west and northern part of the country where it’s colder during baseball season. The BIG10 is a Power 5 Conference and in 2015 had a lot of pro talent on every team. Having grown up in the Northeast the cold didn’t bother me, though I would’ve preferred playing in 75 and sunny weather compared to 35 and raining.
At the beginning of the season, we were the #14 ranked team in the nation. #14 was the highest we had been in school history. We felt honored to carry that national ranking but in a New York minute our humble thanks turned into displeasure. There was a strong consensus that we were underrated after looking at the 13 teams ahead of us. We knew that we could dominate any of these schools in a three-game series. The trademark of the 2015 Terps was talent, experience, and a competitive grit. We were junkyard dogs, chomping at the bit to get after teams, knowing that our controlled aggression would paralyze our opponents once the game began. We took pride and embraced the mindset that we were a “blue-collar team”, having to grind for everything we earned. We didn’t need the fanciest clubhouse or the top-of-the-line hotel accommodations. All we needed was an opportunity, for the umpire to say, “play ball”, and we were released to impose our will. It didn’t matter if it was early or late, hot or cold, sunny or raining. Our objective was to not only win the game but dismantle any kind of confidence or hope the other team had. We wanted to play a brand of baseball where after game one, the other team would leave the field dreading playing us two more games.
I entered the year as the primary setup man, pitching the eighth inning bridging the gap between the starter or long reliever to the closer. However, based on the situation we would often flip flop roles. In my mind it didn’t matter what role I was given on a game-to-game basis, as long as I had the opportunity to help the team win. Our bullpen was very diverse in terms of strengths and weaknesses, but our mentality was consistent. We all approached pitching as attacking hitters, getting our defense off the field and our hitters in the batter’s box as quickly and efficiently as possible. We were the last line of defense, and we ran with the idea that if we were going to be good as a team then our bullpen would have to stop the bleeding. We loved coming in with runners on base, challenging ourselves both physically and mentally to get out of the inning with a zero. When a guy out of the bullpen who throws 85 mph has the same mentality as the guy who throws 97 mph, you’re going to have a dangerous bullpen.
With the team having confidence in one another, the MLB Draft around the corner, and me throwing the ball well in my final preseason outing, I was fired up to begin the 2015 season. As a junior, there were some things that changed from when I was an underclassman. For starters, I didn’t have an equipment responsibility on road trips. In the past I would have to carry the pitcher’s ball buckets or laundry bag, but not this season. I also got my own row on the bus which was a big deal to me. No longer sitting with my shoulders rounded next to another big body teammate or squished against the window. My favorite change was that I was going to remain the pregame speech giver like I was in the fall for the Old Liners. The team voted that that was something they’d like me to keep doing and that it got the boys fired up. Now that I was given this duty, I had to go all out thinking of creative yet passionate and authentic messages to relay to my teammates before the games. I loved it.
We started the 2015 season with an 8-hour bus ride down to Coastal Carolina to play in the Caravelle Resort Tournament with Western Kentucky, Canisius, Old Dominion, and Coastal Carolina. A combination of excitement and nervousness set in as we rolled up to the field, a feeling that I had become accustomed to over the years. We beat up on Western Kentucky, Canisius, and Old Dominion. The game vs Coastal Carolina got rained out, we considered them lucky that the rain bailed them out of playing us. The following weekend we were in Alabama playing in the South Alabama Tournament against South Alabama, the University of Central Florida, and Arkansas. Better competition and a better test for us to gauge if we were who we thought we were. We lost by a run to UCF but beat South Alabama and Arkansas leaving no doubt we were a team to be reckoned with. Arkansas had former teammate Andrew Benintendi (from the Midland Redskins) and current Major Leaguer for the Kansas City Royals. We finished the preseason with wins over App State, UNC Wilmington, Richmond, Princeton, and Elon. App State had future teammate (Minnesota Twins) Jaylin Davis a current Major Leaguer for the San Francisco Giants. After preseason we were 14-4 and we were about to get our first taste of BIG10 competition.