February 8, 2003
Ricky Henne, <i>Hullabaloo</i> Staff Writer
Cory Hahn transferred to Tulane from the University of Kentucky for a reason. "I wanted to go to a school that can win. We have some great players, some great coaches, and with this club, you expect a lot from us. It's going to be a fun year." Ranked 23 in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Poll, and number 26 in both the Baseball America and Sports Weekly/ESPN Preseason Polls, the Tulane Green Wave Baseball team has one goal: to finish the season number one in all three.
"We want to get back to Omaha [and win the College World Series]," said junior shortstop Tony Giarratano. Two years removed from a College World Series appearance, the Green Wave not only believe they can win it, they expect to. In his 10th year as head coach, Rick Jones fields a team split between youth and experience. Despite 16 newcomers this season, Jones' 18 returning lettermen instill confidence in what he dubs a veteran club.
"We lost only one position player from last year," Jones said. "Even though we only have three seniors on this club, from a position standpoint, we are a veteran team." Tulane's reliable infield consists of Giarratano, juniors Michael Aubrey and Turner Brumby, sophomore Tommy Manzella and last season's Defensive Player of the Year, junior Brian Bormaster behind the plate.
"Our infield is a veteran infield so you expect them to have solid years," Jones said. "If they stay healthy I think they will."
In spite of playing in 50 games last year; including 21 starts at third base, 15 at shortstop and eight as the designated hitter; Giarratano's numbers declined steeply from his rookie season, as he hit .238 last year, a huge drop off from his freshman average of .352.
The Green Wave is counting on the junior to return to his freshman form, when he exploded onto the scene, earning Freshman All-American honors and a spot on the U.S. National Team. Giarratano is clearly expected to regain his form, as he was named a preseason All-Conference USA infielder.
Meanwhile, Brumby played in 56 games last year, including 21 at second base, eight as the designated hitter and three at shortstop. He led the middle infielders with a .983 fielding percentage, while finishing fourth on the team with 79 assists. He also earned the team's Most Improved Award, hitting a career-high .367. More importantly, Brumby is a player revered and respected by his teammates as he won the team's Lebreton Inspirational Award for his leadership both on and off the field.
The Green Wave will look upon him once again to step up and energize his teammates. The most notable Green Wave infielder is first baseman Michael Aubrey. Despite an injury-plagued sophomore season, Aubrey is still arguably the top player in College Baseball. Last season, he played in 54 games, starting 32 at first base and 21 as the teams designated hitter, a role he was limited to for the remainder of the season after suffering a sprained back in September.
Despite the injury, Aubrey finished second on the team in RBI (52), and third in homeruns (7), doubles (11), batting average (.316), slugging percentage (.507) and on-base percentage (.375). Tulane's outfield is comprised of the only three seniors in the club, Jonny Kaplan, Aaron Feldman and James Burgess. Kaplan started all 62 games last season in centerfield, and led the team in doubles (18) and stolen bases (30), while finishing second in batting average (.333), hits (87), runs scored (60) and total bases (117). Aside from his offensive prowess, Kaplan is also a defensive marvel.
"Jonny Kaplan may be the best defensive outfielder I've ever coached," Jones said. Meanwhile, Feldman played in 57 games, including 25 starts in left field, five in right and one in center, while Burgess played in 30 games a junior, in spite of a crippling injury to his right wrist that required the insertion of screws and a metal plate.
Sophomore Gerald Clark will also be relied heavily upon. Playing in 57 games last season, starting 53 in right field, Clark earned honorable mention Freshman All-American honors. He finished second on the team in home runs (11), slugging percentage (.526), walks (42) and on-base percentage (.526). While Jones knows what to expect from his reliable position players, it's his unproven pitching staff that he feels is the key to success.
"We are extremely young and inexperienced on the mound, and for the most part untested," he said. "The veterans, like Joey Charron, will be bolstered by the addition of Cory Hahn from the University of Kentucky and a bevy of freshmen pitchers who I believe are as talented as any group of pitchers since I've been here."
As always, pitching is going to be the key, but that phrase is amplified even more with this team. The junior Charron will be relied upon to anchor Jones pitching staff, and he appears ready to, already being named a Preseason All-Conference USA Relief Pitcher. Last season, he appeared in a team-high 29 games, all in relief, and earned second-team All-Conference USA honors after leading the team, finishing second in the league and tying for 20th in the nation with 66.2 innings pitched.
Charron also finished second on the Green Wave in strikeouts (77), ERA (3.38), opponent batting average (.263) and runners picked off (7). Charron will also look to lead the young, inexperience pitching staff. "I'll lead by example for everybody and teach everybody how everything runs around here."
"I feel they look up to me and how I pitch," Charron said. When pressed about his young pitchers, Jones is quick to defend his inexperienced staff, but he isn't delusional. "They're going to have to pitch for us," he said. "They have a chance to be a very talented pitching staff, but they are young and we have to keep our fingers crossed that they don't lose confidence and that they continue to mature. We'll get better if that's the case."
Charron also has every confidence that his young teammates will in fact improve throughout the season. "They'll have plenty of time [to mature] as the season goes on," he said. "By the time it's the end of the season, you're not a freshman pitcher anymore. You've got the experience of a full season, and that is when you need to play. We have a really deep pitching staff, and we lacked depth lacked season. This season we have a really good chance to go deep in the postseason."
Aside from the pitchers, each freshman will need to contribute to the team. "Every year, if you look at all the teams that make it to Omaha, you have to have a strong freshman class that steps up for you," Giarratano said. "I think we've got that."
With a recruiting class ranked 18th in the nation, the young Green Wave players seem capable of the challenge. Overall, there is an aura of confidence surrounding Green Wave baseball. With a potent mix of veteran leadership and talented freshmen, Jones' team believes they can compete and beat any other team in the country. This new year of baseball guarantees to be an exciting and successful season for the players, coaches and certainly the fans.
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