The Azusa Pacific baseball team is ready to start its new season with a double header on Saturday, Feb. 1 against Cal State San Bernardino at the Cougar Baseball Field.
“The attitude our team has every year is what we call ‘bringing steam.’ This means a lot of energy, focus and enthusiasm on the field,” senior pitcher Hunter Brown said.
With 16 freshmen and nine transfers this season, the players are well-balanced. They have dominant members in pitching, offense and defense that will increase their chances of winning the conference title.
“I think what we are most excited for is just to play an actual game
with the new group of guys,” senior pitcher Jacob Cage said. “We’ve
been practicing for about six months now, and I think everybody is just
ready to play and have fun.”
The Cougars have been working hard for several months with 6 a.m. practices three times a week and scrimmages four times a week during the offseason. They ended their season last year with a record of 19-30, but they won nine in a row at the finish. They plan on using that same determination to win conference this year.
“Last year, we were young and still learning, but our optimistic attitude going into each game has never changed,” Brown said.
The goal for the Cougars this season is to come together as a team and continue to stay positive through successes and failures alike. Their main concern is making sure each player is handling adversity in a professional way and giving his best effort each time on the field.
“We want to be consistent with our process of handling things, and we really believe if we have a good process, practice [the] right way and a maintain a good attitude, then the wins and the losses will take care of themselves,” head coach Paul Svagdis said.
Moving from the NAIA to NCAA Division II has not affected the Cougars dramatically. Their training has been changed in different areas, but the competition and skill level have been consistent in the transition to Division II, leaving the pressure behind.
“The one difference between NAIA and Division II is just putting in the extra hours to become that much better,” Cage said.
The new pitching coach, John Verhoeven, has also contributed to the new
training this season, with his past experience as head coach at Biola
University and as a former Major League Baseball player.
“I think people assume our poor results last year was because of our move to Division II, but I would say that wasn’t the case,” Svagdis said. “I think we just have more opportunities available to us now that we’re Division II.”
The coaches do not want the players to only play baseball well, but also to become respectful men. With each season that passes, the players are learning new ways to improve their baseball skills, along with lessons they can use for the rest of their lives.
“[Svagdis] puts having a great character above being a great baseball player, which I love,” senior outfielder Joseph Daris said. “I wouldn’t want to play for any other head coach.”
The team is more than ready to start the 2014 season and wants as much support as it can get from the Azusa Pacific community.
“When you walk out on the field and they’re practicing hard every day, have a good attitude, and believe in themselves regardless, as a coach that’s all you can ask for,” Svagdis said.