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Virginia Tech Baseball 2016: the Review

It's the final two weeks of the season. Graduation is this Friday, but Hokie Baseball lives on for one more weekend. We aren't going to the ACC Tournament this season. The wins and losses didn't work out that way. But it's baseball and next season is coming.

The Final Meeting of 2016.
The Final Meeting of 2016.
Picture Courtesy of Dave Knachel - Virginia Tech Athletics

There isn't much else to say about the nature of the Hokies' baseball season this year; it was disappointing.  The season started out with high hopes, a good scattering of experienced Seniors and a couple of reasonably sound pitchers.

This is baseball, however, and as any longtime fan of the game knows that the most talented brilliant and skilled roster can still only be expected to exist around the .500 mark.   College baseball might be a slight exception, but baseball is still a game played to the averages.  The team that manages to defy the average to the better side of .500 has a much greater chance of winning.

Unfortunately, the 2015-2016 Virginia Tech Hokies baseball team fell far below average for the long season.  At the time of this writing, just prior to the start of the Wake Forest series, Virginia Tech's record is 18-31 overall with a 5-19 ACC record.  That puts Tech outside of the seeding window for the ACC Tournament.

There are only 10 seeds in 2 pools.  Tech's ACC record is just not good enough to make the cut. This means that the final 7 games will represent the final stretch for the team this season.   So, the question of the next few seasons is how do we fix this?  The answers aren't necessarily as easy as new coaches, new players, and new everything else.

First let's look at who is leaving due to graduation and thank them for their effort.  They are Hokies and now become members of Hokie Nation.

Relief Pitcher Luis Collazo, Starting infielder Matt Dauby, Starting Catcher Andrew Mogg, Captain and Starting Infielder Phil Sciretta, Bench Outfielder Logan Bible, and Relief Pitcher Jon Woodcock will all walk this year.  They will be missed.  Mogg, Dauby, and Sciretta were consistent starters (with Sciretta being a team leader) Woodcock and Bible, as quality pitching and bench relief , where experienced and provided valuable contributions.  Woodcock often came into games in rough situations with little hope of a win in his stat column.  Bible was often a speedy pinch runner and hitter.

The Seniors will be missed, but that leaves the bulk of the team intact for the 2016-2017 school year.  Starting pitcher Kit Sheetz has the only winning record (5-4 / 3.61 ERA) of the staff.  He's been pitching quality starts with good results.  Sheetz is a redshirt Junior so the team will be looking for his leadership as well as quality pitching one more season.

The bulk of the remainder of the underclass has been routinely mentioned as starters or critical bench players over the course of the season.  Names like walk generator Saige Jenco (AVG .314/OBP .450) , Max Ponzurick (AVG .250/OBP 3.92), Ryan Tufts (AVG .274/OBP .381), Tom Stoffel (AVG .284/OBP .392) will be looking to improving next season.

The fact remains that this team is very young and just finding itself.  What that means in the offseason is going to be up to the AD and Coaching staff.

What we do know is that Virginia Tech Baseball really needs a boost.  The first big move this season, courtesy of Union Bank, and a deal worked out for naming rights to a re-modeled and updated baseball venue;  English Field at Union Park.  It will be interesting to see the architectural renderings of the new stadium and clubhouse.  An upgraded facility isn't an upgrade in results, but it certainly demonstrates and supports the move in the positive direction.  The new facilities will help with recruiting, and certainly improve the playing conditions.

Baseball recruiting news is never a densely sourced subject for the Hokies.  It's been a few years since the program has really produced any notoriety, and on the ground reporting concentrates more on the revenue sports of football and basketball.  Baseball recruiting is also difficult and complex because colleges are after players that the pros might also be after.  There are more than a few high school graduates who have skipped straight to the minor leagues.  There are also some pretty strong junior college leagues that can compete because scholarships for baseball can be thin.  Over the next few months and into the fall we will be developing more of that information, and trying to highlight the baseball recruits the same way that we highlight the revenue sports prospects.

Winning has its own attractions, however.  The problem is that winning is not what we have been doing of late.  It's a good thing to upgrade the facilities, and a better thing to actually begin to get the word out about the team, how it's doing, and even that it exists.  Baseball is an odd sport.  It generally cannot be picked up at some time later in life.  It's a "life" sport and skill set built slowly and gradually over time.  To get really good, a player works and plays almost all of the time.

There was a time when a wandering herd of kids of some undetermined but sufficient number to support a couple of teams would head to the local park, or idle little league baseball diamond.  There'd be the cardboard boxes for bases, the hodgepodge of gloves (with kids sharing for those who didn't have them).  There were a few bats and a couple of beat up egged out balls, and every cap and tee shirt from every team.

The bat was tossed inyo the air... handle up, and grabbed by an earnest hand. Then the opposing ‘captain' walk the handle to the knob at the end... the captain who got his hand over the knob won the first pick and last ups.  Does anyone out there still remember the cry "Eagle Claw!"?   Sandlot baseball for hours on a lazy summer evening, and the night was capped off by watching the local broadcast of the game, Mets, Yanks, Royals, Reds... but it was always late before they finished up and the game went to bed with us in an old AM radio smuggled under the pillow.  Head strategically turned so when Mom checked she couldn't see the tinny sounding plastic earpiece feeding you the fading lines of the 9th inning... 2 outs, a man on second, and the shortstop at the plate...

Baseball is a slow unfolding of life punctuated by excitement, and heartbreak.  It's the joy of a walk off victory.  It's the elation of turning that elegant 4-5-3 double play.  It's actually knowing what a 4-5-3 double play is.  It's singing crickets and peepers, and evenings under the lights.

College baseball is a tough sell.  The season starts when it's still winter, and it ends after everyone leaves after graduation week.  Whit Babcock looks like one of those guys who fell asleep to the sounds of the post-game wrap-up show on that AM radio tucked under his pillow. We know he played at JMU.  Let's see if he can get the program turned around and start pulling in the crowds that the Virginia Tech Hokies deserve to see.

This season is almost over.   It's been a long haul, and there were some good things to build on.  There are also lots of things that need to get done.  The Hokie team needs to get better.  And It sure would be nice to see Hokie Nation get excited about opening day, walk-off wins, pitchers duels, and Hokie Baseball.

This evening is the final home stand, three games from the visiting Demon Deacons, and a short one game visit from the VMI Keydets.  The games are listed for ESPN3 and it's Mascot Night.