Baseball, yes that baseball, is literally right around the corner. Last year, UM put together an impressive run that ended with one of these:
via www.mgoblue.com - click to enbiggen
Of course, this was nothing really new to the Wolverines, as this was their third consecutive Big Ten title. Head coach Rich Maloney deserves a ton of the credit here, as it is tough for a school like Michigan to pull talent away from those damned warm-weather schools where baseball prospects are grown on trees, harvested,
play in the Cape League, then go on to play in the MLB. Oh, and while they're being harvested they're winning national titles for schools like Texas, Rice, and Cal-State Fullerton. This isn't some "southern speed" argument - it's a fact: schools in the south are better baseball schools than schools in the north (I don't really call Oregon the north, FWIW). Rich Maloney has managed to put together a squad that has competed and shown very well on a national stage when given the chance. This is not a small feat, and should be recognized as something...well...pretty cool.
The 2009 squad looks to build off of what was accomplished by the '08 guys: a deep run into Omaha. However, they have their work cut out for them. Missing from this year's squad is a big bat in Nate Recknegal and a big arm in Zach Putnam. Recknegal was the recipient of the Big Ten player of the year award last year, and Putnam was the Big Ten pitcher of the year. Losing that talent hurts. Michigan has some very good players who will mitigate the loss of production, starting m'yeh:
Pitcher Chris Fetter will be the Wolverine's ace and stopper. He is currently ranked as the 4th best returning senior by Rivals, and the 2nd best pitcher. A righty, Fetter stands at 6'8"(!!!!) with 161 career strikeouts. He also looks like he should be the bad-guy in some sort of science fiction movie that uses stock footage and jump-cuts.
I don't know why I think this.
Regardless, he's on the preseason all-American 2nd team, and is the only Big Ten player to be named on the 10 man roster. He will, barring injury, be the best player in the Big Ten this coming year.
Another player that will be instrumental to the Wolverine's success this year is Senior Captain Kevin Cislo, who plays infield and outfield. The field. Right. I mean, correct.
Anyways, Cislo reached safely in all but three games last year, which is pretty sweet. He also had a 1.000 fielding average in center field. His glove, his leadership, and his OBP will be a huge factor for the Wolverines. He would play the protagonist in my fake broke science fiction movie starring Fetter and Cislo:
He would probably be a scientist.
So why, Beauford, are you previewing the baseball team in January? The first game is in 22 days when the Wolverines play South Florida in the Big Ten/Big East challenge in Clearwater, FL. The tournament will feature 4 games played by the Wolverines, one against fellow Big Ten member Purdue.
The Wolverines have been the torch-bearer for Big Ten Baseball for the reasonable past, and I look for that dominance to continue. Is this team built like last year's who hosted a regional? Maybe, but I sort of doubt it. On paper, Fetter will replace Putnam, but I don't see another "2008 Fetter" on the roster. Hopefully I'll be surprised, but Michigan needs another strong arm to go fill in the middle of those weekend series.
Look for more baseball coverage probably once a week or so from this blog when the season rolls around.