The sound of a baseball connecting with a bat for the perfect hit and the noise from the anxious crowd cheering for the runner who steals a base is music to the ears. It’s a noise that becomes familiar again as the weather begins to warm up and the ballpark lights get flipped on. The game is back. For the University of Utah baseball team, that is exactly what they want to hear.
“Everyone is excited,” said senior Dallas Carroll. “You’re kind of nervous but that opening day you realize it’s the same game you grew up playing, and that kind of gets the nerves and all that out of the way. ”
The reigning Pac-12 Champions are looking forward to picking up right where they left off last season under head coach Bill Kinnenberg. The man who is at the helm of this talented team and who was also named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2016, plays a huge role in motivating and influencing his athletes. Not only is he a factor on how each individual competes on the field, but he also factors into how they perform away from the dirt.
“I think it’s just the fact that we know that he cares about us on and off the field, and when you have someone like that you do a little bit extra for him,” Carroll explained. “It’s easy to get behind a coach that gets behind his players.”
Utah said good-bye to many four-year starters after the 2016 run, such as AJ Young, Cody Scaggari, Dalton Carroll and Kody Davis. Carroll believes that the main difference from last year’s team and this year’s team will be the group of guys who now compile Utah baseball. With the new year, new opportunities will arise. Players will have the chance to prove what they are capable of doing as they fight for those positions to replace the four-year starters who finished their time at Utah.
“We lost some key parts,” Carroll said. “But we got a lot of key parts coming in with freshman. That’s going to be the biggest thing — blending in with the new guys. We’ve had six months since the beginning of fall to come together, which I think we have.”
Many of the returners are key players who helped chase last year’s historic conference victory down. Fans have expressed to some of the returners, like Dallas Carroll, how they would like to see Utah repeat as conference champions, but that is not something that Utah has their mind wrapped up in. They want to play the best they can, and they are keeping their eyes set on NCAA regionals — a goal they believe is very attainable.
“We as a team know that postseason is our ultimate goal,” Carroll said. “If that means not winning the Pac-12 but doing well enough, taking second, third to go postseason then that still accomplishes the goal that we’re going for.”
With the hard work, effort and discipline the game will demand they put forth in order to be a competitor, the fire they will have to play with day in and day out is crucial. The team knows the expectations the coaching staff has, and they realize how important it is to not only do what is required of them but to also come ready to play as a team and leave it all on the field.
“Everyone’s going to say that they are confident in their team,” Carroll said. “But when I say it, I really mean it.”
Utah will open their season on the road at CSU Bakersfield for a three-game series beginning this Friday with first pitch set for 6 p.m. PT.