As March begins and spring approaches, the Columbia baseball team shares more than a few traits with the change in seasons. Sporting several young players and a new head coach, an air of rebirth and hope surrounds the Lions, who look to improve on last season's losing record.
Nowhere is this optimism more prominent than in head coach Brett Boretti, who pledged that the Columbia "will be the hardest-working team in the league."
The team had ended the 2005 season with a 5-15 Ivy, 10-31 overall record, resulting in a last place finish in the Lou Gehrig Division. Feeling that a change needed to be made, the Athletic Department announced in July that Boretti would replace Paul Fernandes as head coach. Boretti now presides over one of the youngest teams in the league in his first year. Of the 31-man roster, only 11 players are upperclassmen.
The wealth of sophomores and first-years has provided Boretti with the opportunity to develop several players over the next two years. As the team prepares for its first game this weekend at Davidson, the struggle on the team for playing time has been intense.
"I think one of the positives we've had in the pre-season is that we're competing hard," said Boretti. "There's a lot of competition for spots."
The Columbia infield remains relatively unchanged from last season. Junior captain Craig Rodwogin, sophomore Henry Perkins, and junior Tighe Holden return at shortstop, second base, and first base, respectively. Rodwogin was named to the All-Ivy team in 2005 and is expected to be a defensive force for the Lions this season. Perkins is coming off a stellar freshman season and looks to continue his momentum into 2006. Holden posted a team high .995 OPS, resulting in an All-Ivy slection as well. Freshmen Joey Mizzoni and Kyle Roberts have emerged as strong alternates at first and second base, respectively.
The real competition is at third base, a position that cycled through several players last year. Two freshmen, Mike Roberts and Spencer Silverstein, have been jockeying for the starting job. While Boretti has not reached an ultimate decision yet, Roberts will start on Saturday against Davidson.
"Heading into the weekend, I'd give Mike a step forward a little bit. He'll get that nod and that first game."
Another battle looms behind the plate. First-year Brett Joss has proven himself in the offseason to be worthy of starting, but he faces tough competition from senior Mike DeFazio and junior Thomas Stevens. The latter two have more experience in the college game, but Boretti believes Joss is stronger defensively at the moment.
In the outfield, seniors Marc Gold and junior Andrew Ward will return to either center or right field, while senior Andrew Ward will face a competition in left. Sophomores Noah Cooper, Mike Malfettone, and Dan Neczypor will all try to win the starting spot, with Neczypor also acting as a designated hitter this season.
On the mound, a struggle continues for a spot on the four-man rotation. At the top among the returning pitchers is sophomore right-hander Bill Purdy, a 2005 All-Ivy selection who led the team last season with a 2.51 ERA.
"We're looking for him to kind of lead the staff out there," said Boretti.
Other notable returning pitchers include sophomores Matt Berninger and Dan Bajger, both right-handers. They will be challenged by right-handed first-years Brett Beller and Joe Scarlata, both of whom have "shown some positives in the preseason," according to Boretti.
With their first game this weekend and spring break in Florida a little more than a week away, Boretti and his assistants have stressed that this early part of the season consists mainly of continued evaluation of the players as they improve. He believes that it will take a few games before an official starting lineup can be determined.
"We don't know who can do what exactly," Boretti said. "I intend to get everyone's feet wet who is traveling with us this weekend."
As to their performance in the Ivy League this season, Columbia's new coach remains hopeful, noting that other teams such as Penn are experiencing coaching changes as well.
"I think we can match up pretty well with the other teams in the league," he said. "The [Lou Gehrig] division is wide open."