This week we go back to the Spring of Alex's freshmen year where we are able to look into his first season in the ACC playing for the Terps.
After the holidays I returned to College Park for preseason. I had gotten a little homesick during the first semester and missed my family, friends, and hometown. Part of me wished that I had another day or two at home to get another bacon, egg, and cheese with salt, pepper, and ketchup on a roll (BECSPK for my New Yorkers) or slice from my favorite pizzeria. The other part of me couldn’t wait to get back to campus to take the field with my teammates. We returned before just about everyone else that attended the university; the streets that were normally buzzing with cars, buses, and motorized scooters were empty. I enjoyed the lack of people on campus during the preseason, I think it was because it made me feel like it was our campus and our time to go to work.
As we began to ramp up for Louisiana State University things were clicking for me on the field; I had earned the role of Sunday starter. In college baseball, you play your conference games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, while midweek games consisted of out of conference games. When I committed to Maryland and Coach Bakich, he told me that by committing to Maryland I would be putting myself in a position to earn a starting role in my first year. Coach Szefc honored that opportunity and I won the job. One of the fondest moments from my college career was being told that I would be starting game 3 against LSU at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I felt that all of my dedication and perseverance during the prior four years in high school, as well as the fall at Maryland, had prepared me to take the field and compete at a high level.
The entire experience was surreal. I remember packing my bags to head down on my first “business trip” and waking up earlier than I ever had to make sure I didn’t miss the bus. We left on a Thursday morning, dropped our bags off at the hotel, and went over to Alex Box to get in a workout. The stadium was incredible! “Geaux Tigers” were everywhere with the famous purple and yellow school colors painted in every inch of the stadium. We took batting practice, infield/outfield, and pitchers threw bullpens. We did our visualization and finished with a team huddle. We felt that we had prepared our very best to compete against our opponent and it was time to play with confidence and our brand of baseball.
Friday was the first taste of a sold-out crowd of dedicated fans in college baseball. A guy by the name of Aaron Nola started for LSU and he threw a gem against us, and we lost in a close game. Saturday, we lost in another close game to the Tigers, and our mindset shifted to win the series to leave with just one win. Warming up on the field that Sunday before the game I had goosebumps running up and down my arms with butterflies in my stomach. I had worked so hard to get here so I took a minute to smell the roses and got back to the task at hand. I feel like those goosebumps and butterflies were more excitement and anxiousness than nerves or unwanted pressure. Playing in the Area Code Games and with the Midland Redskins in the Connie Mack World Series had prepared me to be in this environment, there was a sense of familiarity. I ended up throwing a little more than four plus innings, giving up three runs, and lost in a lopsided final score. I wasn’t mad or angry, I was never a guy who threw my equipment or punched walls, I never saw the point of that. I was anxious to get back to College Park and reset myself so I can get back to work the next week. My next outing was going to be better than my last. I remained the Sunday starter until about halfway through the season before I was switched to the midweek starter. I wasn’t thrilled about my new role, but I still had an impact on the team and was still starting; I figured I could complain, or I could do my job. After a few consistent outings, I was put back into the weekend rotation, sometimes better to just do your job than voice your opinion.
Throughout the season I felt there was this unspoken divide between the upperclassmen and the underclassmen. We were all friendly and wanted to win, but there was something there that kept us from really becoming a unified team. Maybe it was because there were eleven freshmen in my class and only three seniors, so our voices outweighed theirs from a number’s perspective? Maybe it was that we felt we were too cool for the school, being a highly ranked recruiting class? Or maybe because we were all focused on different things, rather than coming together as one? I’m not sure, and regardless of the reason, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the final game of the season because that would mean that we finished with thirty wins on the season, and we would send our seniors off as winners. It didn’t dawn on me until the last game of the year that there is so much more that goes into a season than just wins and losses. It’s like this odd disconnect between our upperclassmen and lowerclassmen had taken away from the comradery and team mentality I had carried but seemed to have forgotten a little throughout the season. This final game was the last time that our seniors would be putting on the Maryland uniform. What their time at the university had meant to them, what they experienced, whom they grew into, and the legacies they were leaving behind were all things that rushed into my head as we took the field. I had never wanted to win a game so badly up until that final game at our stadium against Boston College.
Like a story from a movie, we went into extra innings against the Golden Eagles and walked them off on a single through the middle, and one of our seniors scored the winning run. The emotion that I felt that day really began to help mold the rest of my career at Maryland. I wouldn’t take for granted my remaining years at the University because one day it will come to an end. Looking back on that season I believe if we had been a more unified team, we would have had more success, but how we would’ve had that success would’ve made it that more special. I’m grateful for the lessons and experiences I had during my freshman season, despite not fully understanding what was in front of me at the time.