University of Maryland baseball players refer to themselves as the "bomb squad" and the statistics against opposition pitchers make that nickname appropriate.
In 22 games this season, Maryland has blasted 44 home runs, destroying the season record of 31 set by the ACC champion 1970 team.
Led by the area's top home run man, John Brisee (8), the College Park sluggers have 10 players batting over .300 and have knocked in 169 runs. They are 17-5 now, a major improvement over last year when they finished 15-20-1. And the future looks promising, with only seven seniors on the 30-man roster.
What magic has Jack Jackson, the tobacco-chewing, 51-year-old coach now in his 20th season at Maryland, conjured up to turn his team's fortunes around.
"During the protests of the Vietnam war years, the young kids felt like they could do anything they wanted to," said Jackson, who spent five years in the minor leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
"Then, all the kids acted too much like free spirits. But now they are more responsible and coachable. It's like the son who turns 25 years old and can't figure out how his father became so smart in the last year.
"A few years ago I had players who would nod their heads in agreement with your advice when they were looking at you, but as soon as you turned your back, they'd go and do what they wanted."
Jackson simply told the trouble-makers to leave, a major reason for his team's current success.
Mark Poehlman, the leading RBI man and captain of the Terrapins, concurs with Jackson's analysis.
"When I was a freshman I liked to do things the way I wanted to," he said. "As I got older I learned to listen to the coach and worked on those areas instead of saying. "This isn't comfortable to me and I won't do it."
"In the past, Coach Jackson almost got into fights with guys who weren't satisfied with the way things were going. The main ingredient to our current success is the attitude of the ball club. Winning breeds good attitude and eliminates problems," said Poehlman, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound, four-year starter from Balitmore who is having his best reason.
"It's just one guy doing well," said Neal Herrick, an all-met drafted by the California Angels after his senior year at Arundel High School. "We are really fortunate to have a group of kids that care about each other. The coach has told us that he feels like he has 28 sons and he's like a father to all of us.
"There are always a couple of players in his office and he's willing to talk to you any time. Winning is important to him but he makes you realize that baseball isn't everything," said Herrick, a junior who hopes to receive a pro offer in June. Herrick led the area with a .500 batting average before sitting out seven games with a pulled hamstring.
"When I first came here, I was just an average hitter," Herrick said. "Coach worked with me and helped me improve my bat speed. He had me hold my hands down lower and asked me to keep the bat straight up instead of resting it against my shoulders."
Jackson, in part, attributes his team's great start to the acquistion of an indoor batting cage this year.
"When Carl James (Maryland's athletic director) first came here he asked me what he could do to help the program," the coach said. "I told him I'd been trying to get an indoor batting cage for 15 years but no one had allocated space to set it up. George Washington, Navy and N.C. State have them and we were behind the times. This January, the cage was set up in the small gym at Cole Field House and a 70-foot-long, 12-foot-wide net was suspended from the ceiling.
"Each of the guys took about 2,000 swings and when they came out in the spring, they felt on top of the pitchers instead of the reverse. Most of our players' batting averages are up 100 points over last year," said Jackson, a tenured assistant professor in physical education, who lives in Beltsville.
"I certainly felt prepared when I stepped up to bat in our first game," Poehlman recalled. "In previous years we had a person six feet away toss a sock wrapped up in tape."
The attitude of the youthful Terrapins has rejuvenated Jackson, who says his players "have inspired me to coach five more years. The togetherness makes you want to get up and go again.
"I really have a warm feeling for this ball club. It has its own charisma about it. You know when you work with them that they appreciate your effort and that drives you go do more for them."
"A good man with a big heart," Poehlman says of his coach.