COLUMBUS, Ohio – The time was 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28, and the location was the spacious Woody Hayes Athletics Center on the campus of The Ohio State University when the next era of Buckeye Baseball – the Greg Beals era – really and truly and finally began for the oldest sport on campus.
The moment in time represented the start of the first official team practice of the 2011 season. And unlike the spectacular day in June when Beals was introduced as Ohio State’s coach, or the pristine September and October days when Beals and his staff – pitching coach Mike Stafford, infield/outfield and base-running coach Chris Holick and volunteer assistant Josh Newman – started learning about the team during the four weeks of fall ball, the practice Friday truly meant the 2011 season had started.
And the start of the college baseball season always is a good thing. The pop, pop, pop of ball meeting leather sounded serious. The pace of the workout – starting with stretching and warm-up sprints followed by short tosses and long tosses to get arms loose, and then fundamentals – reeked of intensity.
As it should. First pitch of the season is just three weeks away. The Buckeyes open in St. Petersburg at the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge.
Real Goose Bumps At 2:18 p.m. when the team got in a tight circle and belted out a baseball version of “Fight the Team,” the coach’s goose bumps were real. That’s because Beals is a Buckeye…from Springfield, Ohio…a Buckeye true-and-true, by way of Kent State where he played and coached, and Ball State where he won 243 games and three MAC West Division championships at a place that doesn’t have a Woody Hayes Athletics Center or a Bill Davis Stadium.
Beals’ coaching staff on the first day of the 2011 season is all Buckeye, too.
Stafford played for Ohio State in the late 1990s, lettered twice and was part of three Big Ten champion or tournament champion teams. Newman won 32 games for Ohio State between 2001-04, and was also a part of three champion teams. Holick is from just outside of Cleveland, lettered in baseball at both Indiana and Kent State, and left southern Florida five months ago to be a Buckeye.
The First Ping The ping of metal bats crushing ball wasn’t heard until 66 minutes into the workout. And by then, most of 80 square yards of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was being used in some form or another for drills. Beals was in one set of batting cages beneath giant National Champions banners pitching batting practice to a group of hitters. Another L-screen was in use inside a second batting cage, with four Buckeyes just outside the cage teeing off, hitting balls into its net. In the middle of the field the outfielders were chasing down balls strategically placed by Holick, coming up firing and working on angles. And in another corner pitchers were utilizing chairs, towels, artificial mounds, and each other as catchers…all under the watchful eyes of Stafford and Newman, each of who spent several years pursuing professional baseball careers before starting to coach and ultimately returning to their alma mater.
At 3:30 p.m. a couple handfuls of pitchers – there are 16 of them on the 33-man roster – bolted the WHAC for live bullpens in the batting cages at Bill Davis Stadium. Just as many position players followed shortly, eager to start swinging.
Holick took over more of the WHAC, drilling infielders on ground balls and double play balls and teamwork and this new reality of being a Buckeye in the Beals era.
Newman coached pickoff moves with the remaining pitchers.
Followed by PINGs At 4 p.m. the rest of the Buckeyes departed the WHAC to hook up with their teammates at Bill Davis Stadium. That’s because the women’s golf team – like baseball, a Big Ten champion team multiple-times over under the direction of Therese Hession, and getting ready for the start of their spring season – was on the WHAC schedule starting at 4. Then came the sound of more pings…from PING golf clubs.
Over at Bill Davis Stadium A short walk from the WHAC, the three-batting cage setup at the team’s indoor batting cage complex at the stadium was alive with the sights and sounds of action…
Near the end of the practice Beals coached up one player who was swinging up at pitches.
“You’re fighting the world when you’re swinging uphill like that,” Beals said. “Gravity is down low…go with it. … Yes! Now you’ve got the whole world on your side.”
Soon after, day one of the Greg Beals era was done. It looked and sounded like a lot of hard work, and a good time…to be a Buckeye.