Coach Loyal Park will have five lettermen in the field when his baseball squad opens its season Monday in St. Petersburg, Ela. Only two of those returning starters, however, are playing at the position they held last season.
"We've got some outstanding athletes on the team," Park said. "They're all around ballplayers, so I can juggle the starting line-up and put our best combination of seven players out on the field."
On Monday, the Crimson begins its collegiate season in the College Baseball Classic at Florida Presbyterian.
The tournament will compile league records rather than running on an elimination-round format. Competing teams will face each other all week long and the final standings will be tabulated after Saturday's games. Florida Presbyterian, Coast Guard, Washington and Lee, and Aurora College have already been competing for a week.
Park has moved All-Ivy utility man Pete Varney from right field to first base. In high school Varney was a catcher and received a bonus offer from the Houston Astros.
Varney led the team as a sophomore with a 377 batting average, 29 hits, 18 runs, 2 homers, and 17 RBIs. His home run total is very misleading, for Varney frequently hit 450-foot outs last year in Harvard's fenceless outfield.
"Pete seems more comfortable at first," Park said. "He played there this summer in a Park League and did a great job. We'll still use him as a catcher, too. Eighteen innings behind the plate in one day is too much for only one catcher."
Last year's three alternating second basemen. Bill Cheery, John Ballentyne, and Chico Garcia, all failed to come out for the team this spring. Their absence should not hurt the team, for they were expected to play behind two sophomores anyway, Vince McGugan and Roxbury Latin's Tim Bilodeau.
McGugan had a phenomenal year as a freshman. He led the team with a 433 average, most of his hits going for extra bases. McGugan, originally scheduled to start, had his wisdom teeth removed last week. He just returned to practice yesterday and may therefore be held out a few games.
Bilodeau may not give up the starting position. He had four hits in yesterday's scrimmage and is improving daily. "He can play a lot of positions," Park said. "so we'll use him somewhere."
At shortstop, Park has found another sophomore gem in Art Serrano. "He's the hub of our infield." Park said. "He's a take-charge guy who keeps things moving."
The closest battle for a starting position is at third, where Dan DeMichele and Mike Thomas are vying for the job. DeMichele, recently available from the hockey team, is a consistent hitter batting 342 last season and only striking out three times.
Thomas's strength is his fielding ability. "He's a good defensive third baseman," Park said. "He has an outstanding arm, and you know that long throw to first base is all-important.
No More Ignacio
Graduation only hurt the team in left field, where the Crimson lost All-Ivy outfielder John Ignacio. Taking his place will be Bill Kelly, who was last season's shortstop.
"I can't say enough about what a great athlete Kelly is." Park said. "I can play him at short, at left, and I'm trying him as a pitcher. He'll be in the line-up somewhere every day." Kelly pitched in high school but has played only third and shortstop for the Crimson.
Neil Hurley returns to his starting position in center field. Without an outfield fence. Harvard's center field demands Hurley's great speed to knock down any line drive. Hurley uses his speed at the plate, too. He is an excellent bunter and often last season he bunted successfully without a runner on first.
Pete Bernhard, considered by many of the visiting coaches to be Harvard's leading pro-ball prospect, has moved from first base to right field. According to Park, Bernhard prefers the outfield. A pitcher in high school, Bernhard is also being tried as a relief pitcher this spring.