Hailing from the Northeast, Penn State is in a clan of baseball clubs forced to open its season on the road for nearly a month.
It’s not because of scheduling conflicts amongst programs or anything of that nature, but rather the most obvious reason — it’s cold up here and not down south.
The Nittany Lions open their 2013 campaign away from Happy Valley for a little more than a month, traveling to play a total of 16 games before coming home to do more than practice at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Considering the weather patterns haven’t taken a 180-degree turn since last season, this extended period of time in the away dugout isn’t new to Penn State.
But, last year’s start to the season wasn’t among coach Robbie Wine’s fondest memories, making the first series of the season this weekend against East Tennessee State all that more important.
“We’ll find out a lot this weekend and hopefully find out more the next week. [We need to] get things ironed out so we don’t get off to that rocky start,” Wine said. “I’m tired of it. There’s no excuse for it. You switch [last year’s opening record] to 14-4 and we’re in the NCAA’s.”
That “rocky start” entailed 11 losses in the Lions’ first 14 games, all of which were on the road.
And after an 18-4 record at home built confidence, the Lions finished the 2012 season with a 29-27 mark — not enough to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
However, it’s not just being on the weekend traveling grind that brought down the team’s record, but instead straying away from the fundamentals.
“Last year, we struck out too much. Runner on third with nobody out, we wouldn’t score,” Wine said. “…The sac fly always came with two outs. Think of it that way, and this year it’s not going to happen.”
With that being said, Wine and his coaching staff have preached to their players throughout the offseason about sticking to “small ball” on the road early in the season.
In other words, overlooked aspects of the game like sacrifice flies, bunting and hitting the ball to the right side of the field with runners in scoring position are crucial.
Not only does it put players in position to score with less than two outs, but this approach to the little things right takes pressure off players who may otherwise step into the batter’s box thinking home-run.
“A part of my problem sometime is thinking ahead too much. And I think with this gameplan that coach Wine has implemented and the rest of the coaching staff everybody goes up there with the same idea which relaxes us in a sense,” senior middle infielder Elliot Searer said.
Wine echoed Searer’s sentiments, saying doing the little things will help pick up early road wins and get the Lions off to a better start than last year.
“We’re going to figure out how to win [games down there] and it’s fundamentals. That pitcher who can throw four pitches for strikes early in the year and change-ups give hitters fits,” Wine said. “It’s the same thing with fundamentals. Get the sac bunts down, move a runner, get a runner in and you’ll win those games early.”