Baseball players, coaches look forward to return to outdoor play

With each swing of Jimmy Pickens’ bat at MSU’s indoor hitting facility, you can tell he’s ready.

Each swing harder than the last, the sophomore outfielder knocks ball after ball past the pitching screen to the distinct wall backdrop.

After weeks of being relegated to indoor practice, Pickens certainly isn’t the only one anxious to get back on the ball field.

Coming off an NCAA Tournament berth in 2012, the MSU baseball team opens up its regular season in a three-game weekend series starting at 5 p.m. Friday in Greenville, S.C., against Furman. From there, the team has a Saturday matchup with Miami (Ohio) and closes out Sunday with Big Ten foe Northwestern.

With the team slated to depart early Thursday morning, Pickens said getting back outside is a point of excitement for himself and the team.

“You always get excited when you get to go outside,” Pickens said. “We got outside a little (Tuesday) on the turf field. It was kind of cold, but it was fun seeing balls live, fly balls live, so that was good.

“I’m anxious to get outside; it’s gonna be nice down there.”

The Spartans are expecting mostly sunny skies and temperatures nearing 62 degrees Friday as senior pitcher Andrew Waszak gets the first regular-season start of the year.

Waszak takes over as MSU’s No. 1 pitcher following the departure of last season’s senior ace Tony Bucciferro. During his junior campaign, Waszak finished with a 4-4 record with a 2.96 earned run average in 16 starts.

MSU baseball head coach Jake Boss Jr. said he’s hoping to get at least five innings out of Waszak while monitoring his pitch count when he hits 90 pitches against the Paladins.

However, Boss said Waszak has pitched in early games before and he expects him to handle the situation as well as he has in the past.

“These guys have done this every year and for a long time since they’ve been playing,” Boss said. “It’s something that they’re used to, and I would expect Andrew would take the mound and throw a lot of strikes for us.”

Taking into account the departures of lineup mainstays second baseman Ryan Jones, third baseman Torsten Boss and shortstop Justin Scanlon, among others, the Spartans will rely on a mix of experienced players and new faces to carry the offensive load.

But senior outfielder Jordan Keur said the Spartans have plenty of players who will make an impact in the team’s offense in the start of the season.

“Those guys were a big part of our offense, but we have a lot of guys this year that are gonna be able to step in and are gonna need to step in,” Keur said. “They’ve shown and proved that so far, and I think they’re up for the challenge to prove that.”

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