For most, the end of January means more winter weather and minimal outdoor activity. However, for the Goshen College baseball team it means making final preparations for another season on the diamond.
The Maple Leafs look to improve on the 9-40 record posted last season. The goal of improvement is no stranger to coach Alex Childers, who has led Goshen by increasing win totals for both of the past two years.
“The biggest thing is improving, and we’ve done that the past couple of years, staying in more games,” said Childers. “But we didn’t do a great job of closing out games. I feel like this year we can really make a big stride in win total.”
This year’s roster includes 13 new faces, all incoming freshmen. They join a team returning eight sophomores, seven juniors, and three seniors to complete the roster of 31 players.
“We’ve brought in quite a few freshmen, guys who are going to have a good impact for us,” Childers said. “Having lost two pitchers to graduation, we needed to bring in some arms, especially for the back end of our bullpen. We’ve been intentional about developing those guys for late in games. Maybe not high volume innings, but important innings for us.”
Childers also commented on the returning Maple Leafs and how their experience will benefit the team. “We talk a lot about the speed of the game from high school to college, and how it’s the same sport but played at a higher pace. We’re pretty excited that the majority of our roster has at least one season, if not two, under their belt. We have a couple seniors who have played, and played significantly, for three years. The guys know what to expect, and that’s a big part being able to perform.”
Three players enter their senior season in a Maple Leaf uniform. Jesse Quintanilla catches for Goshen and leads the roster with 133 game appearances. Closely behind him is Bryan Aponte, playing in 131 games with defensive appearances in both the infield and outfield. Trevor Emery wraps up the senior class with 101 appearances as an outfielder.
“Those guys were the first three that I recruited, and it’s cool to see them and what they poured into the program, both from a baseball and personality standpoint,” said Childers. “They’ve stuck with it, through the good times and a few rough times, and it’s just really cool to see them mature as both players and people.”
Emery commented on the team this year, saying, “The camaraderie this year is unlike any other year I’ve been here. The chemistry has really surprised me, and is better and stronger than ever.”
When asked about coach Childers, Emery had only positive comments. “I’ve always commended Coach Childers. I’ve appreciated the work he’s put into the game, making it a point to us to excel both as individuals and as a team. He’s pushed the seniors to elevate our game, and then to also push others below us as well.”
The team also returns a pair of juniors both recognized by the Crossroads League last season for their outstanding play. Preston Carr earned Gold Glove honors in center field last year, and looks for continued success alongside first baseman Vincent Caschera, who lead the Maple Leafs with a .317 batting average, hit six home runs, and totaled 33 RBI.
On the mound Goshen brings back four of its five pitchers from last year. Travis Grimm, a sophomore, had the lowest ERA (earned run average) of all, 3.58 to be precise. Blake Collins, a fellow sophomore, led the Leafs with 58.2 innings pitched last season, followed closely by Michael Walker, a junior, with 55.2. All three will be among the starting rotation once the season begins.
With the season just two weeks away and snow covering the ground, the team continues to prepare in the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center.
“With the addition of the turf training room, I think our facilities match up with anybody in the conference, and in a lot of ways anyone in the Midwest,” said Childers. “We play in less than three weeks, and when we can’t practice outside, the turf room has been huge in getting prepared for the season. I think our guys will be more ready to go this year than they have ever been.”
The first pitch of Goshen’s 2016 season comes on February 12 at 4 p.m. in Asbury, Kentucky as the Maple Leafs square off again Asbury University. The team sees their home debut on March 19 when Goshen hosts Bluffton University, first pitch set for 1 p.m.