For years, area college baseball coaches have spent the preseason fine-tuning their skills by trying to outcoach the weather. Invariably, it has prepared them for losing once the regular season begins.
Plagued by February snows, March chills and inadequate indoor facilities, players and coaches alike spend the early part of the season shaking their fists toward the sky. Knowing that foes in warmer climates are out playing and practicing makes things worse.
The inactivity greatly hinders the pitchers, for whom preseason is most important. For them, the regular season becomes the preseason, and they are forever struggling to keep up with hitters.
Virginia batted .328 last season, Maryland .327 and Georgetown .322. Howard had a 6.29 team earned run average, George Washington 5.76 and Virginia 5.40. This year, however, most local clubs have stronger, deeper pitching, which will make area baseball just a little less fun to watch. The area's best teams can probably be found at Virginia, Maryland and Georgetown.
American: The defending East Coast Conference Eastern Division champs hope to avoid the horrendous start of a year ago, when they won 15 of their last 20 to salvage an 18-20 record. The Eagles lost perhaps the best two players from that squad, outfielder Jim Jeffries, ECC most valuable player, and all-ECC pitcher John Hampford.
Catcher Mike Spring (.328), center fielder Darryl Mann (.322) and right fielder Neal Schultz (25 straight stolen bases) key the offense. Right-handers Chris Adomanis (6-5 and a school record 92 1/3 innings pitched) and Steve Arbogast head a larger pitching staff.
Catholic: The Cardinals, with seven seniors on a roster of 17 players, face their year of reckoning. Last fall's Capital Collegiate Conference champs (11-5) rely greatly on the production of catcher Mike Tryon (.357), first baseman Don Kemp (.314), pitcher-outfielder Bob Lewandowski (.262) and second baseman Geoff Mack (16 stolen bases), all seniors, to overcome pitching deficiencies.
District of Columbia: What can Coach Frazier O'Leary look forward to after a 5-20 opening season in NAIA District 19? A 45-game schedule in 1982. Outfielder Peter Ayala, pitcher Mike Carpenter, second baseman Greg Warrick and infielder Phil Morgan are O'Leary's only lettermen. Eight freshmen and three sophomores dominate his 17-man squad--none seniors.
George Mason: Coach Bill Brown faces his first spring with the Patriots, who play an expanded 51-game NCAA Division I schedule. He enjoyed the fall, when his team won 10 of 16 games in the CCC. Senior Don Van Steelant's six home runs and .431 average were club highs.
Brown has eligible transfers Bob Sowell, former West Virginia third baseman who hit .473 last fall, and Kevin Anderson, former Georgia Southern second baseman (.404), to bolster the infield. Pitching will be Brown's main problem; the Patriot staff, which faces seven doubleheaders, has two years of varsity experience.
George Washington: Coach Dennis Brant lost three of his top four hitters--catcher Tom Masterson (.400), second baseman Russ Ramsey (.345, 37 RBIs, 29 stolen bases) and shortstop Barry Goss (.324). With all-star junior Rod Peters returning to play second base, Brant claims the infield is still the team's strength.
Pitching, obviously, is not. John Buckley (4-1, 5.63) is the Colonials' top starter. Junior Matt Jones (1-1, 4.46) will be used mainly in relief, and sophomores Danny Venable and Mitch Jacobs must be more consistent.
Georgetown: Opponents will be trying to catch Georgetown this season, at least on the base paths. The Hoyas, sparked by outfielder Dwight Anderson (33 steals without being caught), stole 91 of 108 bases in 38 games last spring. GU returns l6 of 18 lettermen from that 20-18 squad, but their top hitter, sophomore third baseman Chris DeMarco (.416), is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
With DeMarco out, first baseman-designated hitter Joe Niciforo powers the Hoya offense. In 1981, he led the team with 52 hits, 11 doubles and 42 runs batted in. Pitching should be strong, with last year's staff intact.
Howard: Coach Chuck Hinton may be delighted about this year's schedule featuring Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina, but is he prepared? The Bison return but four players from last season's 21-35 club and have a roster of 16 that includes eight freshmen and five sophomores.
The experienced Bison are second baseman Barry Jackson (.291), third baseman Robert Spencer (.262) and catcher David Adams (.244). Adams' brother, Gerald, is the only veteran pitcher.
Maryland: The Terrapins came out of their baseball shell in 1981, finishing 23-13, 7-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terrapins mix great offense (7.5 runs per game) with steady pitching (4.15 ERA) and occasional fielding to come up with a winning solution. They have won 29 straight at Shipley Field.
Maryland loses outfielder John Brisee, holder of seven school batting marks, and second baseman Jeff Schaefer, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles after his junior year. All-ACC third baseman Tim Gordon (.367, 14 HR, 55 RBI) and outfielder Tony Larioni (.397) lead an offense that gave opposing pitchers, among other things, a 7.48 ERA. ACC ERA leader Steve Payne (3-0, 0.48) heads a staff that won 18 games.
Navy: The Midshipmen, 46-13 the past two seasons, recently won one of eight games on a trip to New Orleans. Coach Joe Duff, in his 21st season, isn't calling for a life jacket yet, despite losing two-time all Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic League third baseman Jim Roberts and 1981 all-league outfielder Steve Komlo.
The offense is geared around outfielder Steve Acalin, who hit .389 and had a club-high 36 RBIs, and junior Andy Loferski (.389, seven triples).
Virginia: In his first season as coach, Dennis Womack guided the Cavaliers to a school-record 29 victories. Pitching, last year's sore spot, should greatly improve, with the entire staff returning. Mike Gordon, ACC strikeout king in 1981, John Kampschror, Dave Hopkins and Charlie Thomas form the nucleus.
The club's all-Northern Virginia infield remains its strength.