Baseball has a subtly beautiful way of introducing itself into the sports year. The college baseball season begins around the same time as pitchers and catchers begin to report for MLB Spring Training.
The Miami Hurricanes had their version of spring training with a scrimmage in the middle of January. While the crisp overcast with a cool air reminds of the present presence of winter, the sight of the pitcher standing on the mound with palm trees in the background is more comforting than sipping a hot chocolate while covered in a blanket.
The torch was passed from longtime head coach Jim Morris to longtime assistant coach Geno DiMare and now the one big question that remains is whether he is going to pick up where the retired coach left off or spring a new path for himself in an effort to return the Hurricanes to their former glory.
DiMare takes over after the Hurricanes missed out of the postseason in back-to-back seasons. Prior to that, Miami has been in the NCAA Tournament for 44 straight years with its most recent appearance resulting in the program’s 25th College World Series appearance.
“Obviously we haven’t played well the last couple of years,” DiMare said. “I’m the kind of guy that I like pressure. I like applying pressure. That’s how I played here under coach (Ron) Fraser. The pressure, we’re not trying to hide from it. We’re aware we did not have good years the last couple of years. We’re very aware of the history of this program, nobody more than me, and the more pressure I put on these guys day in and day out the better they’re going to be handling it and that’s the way we’re going to handle it. They better be able to handle pressure because they’re going to get it from me every day and they have from the first moment of the fall until now.”
At least DiMare gets a fresh team to go with his fresh start as head coach. The 2019 Hurricanes team is comprised of 10 freshmen, 15 sophomores, seven juniors, and not a single senior. Most of the sophomores saw playing time last year so while the team is young, it’s not as raw as the roster suggests.
“The fact that they played and got a lot of experience is going to help and we played a lot of freshmen last year,” DiMare said. “Some had very good years and some did not. Our sophomore class is going to be very important for us. We are very young, but we have a lot of experience from last year. The offense is young. The pitching is where we have a lot of our juniors and more experience on the mound.”
The Hurricanes ranked 13th out of 14 ACC teams averaging 4.8 runs per game last season while hitting .257 with 23 home runs. DiMare expects improvement from the bats this season and mentions sophomore infielder Freddy Zamora as a potential breakout candidate.
“He’s gotten stronger,” DiMare said. “He had a good fall and you can tell offensively he’s made vast improvements and of course his defense as well. We have some incoming guys, (Adrian) Del Castillo swings the bat as well as anybody we’ve had here in a while as a freshman and a lot of other guys who have to find their way in the lineup, it’s going to be very important from now until Opening Day to kind of see where guys are going to be at. I have an idea where guys are going to be on the field, just seeing where they are in the lineup now.”
While vast improvement on an overall scale might be too much to ask at this point, there is reason for optimism in DiMare’s first season. D1 Baseball projected the Hurricanes to finish as one of the ACC’s nine regional teams this season, despite a projected record of (28-26, 16-13). Reason why is Miami has four of the top freshmen in the ACC in Slade Cecconi, Adrian Del Castillo, JP Gates and Anthony Vilar.
The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper also ranked the Hurricanes No.33 in their preseason poll.
Miami begins the 2019 season at home against Rutgers, but the non-conference schedule is filled with in-state teams who are all expected to make a postseason run.