Baseball conjures up images of summer: warm afternoons, sandlots, hot dogs and beer, and pennant races. Last year the Harvard baseball team was caught up in a red-hot pennant race of its own, one of the tightest Eastern races ever, before it emerged victorious on a warm May afternoon claimed an unprecedented fourth straight Eastern League title.
This spring coach Loyal Park will have almost the entire 1974 championship squad back as the Crimson hardball heroes try for an astonishing fifth straight Eastern crown.
"Defense is going to be the key," Perk said. And the key to the defensive infield with be how Parks tills the only empty spot in his infield, second base.
Jim Thomas, who moved into the third-base slot on one day's notice last year after then-captain Jimmy Stoeckel signed a Canadian Football League contract, will be back to hold down either second or third base. Park has seen Thomas only a few days in practice this spring because Thomas also plays hockey.
Four additional players are in contention for second and third: juniors Fran Cronin and Leon Goetz at third and junior Barry Cronin and sophomore Casey lcknowski at second. Both Goetz and Fran Cronin played last year, with Goetz being the regular center fielder.
Leigh Hogan will return to first base this season. Hogan, an excellent hitter with good speed, was described by Park as "probably the best first baseman that we've had since I've been here." He was named All-GBL last year and hit a torrid .579 for the month of May, finishing the season with a .368 average.
Senior shortstop Ed Durso had a good year defensively last season and an excellent year at the bar the year before. If the All-GBL selection can put both together, he could be one of the Crimson's brightest stars this spring.
Three men are almost locked into outfield spots but two of them might see action in other positions. Don Driscoll and Goetz return from last year's outfield and will be joined by Joe Sciolla who did not play last season but was one of the Crimson's star sluggers the year before.
Driscoll will be pitching regularly and Goetz might play some in the infield so two spots could be open. Leading candidates for those who positions are Steve O'Brien, Tom Joyce, Sandy Milley and Barry Cronin.
The receiving end of the battery will be held down by Harvard captain Dan Williams. John Friar will back up Williams while Kevin Carr and Bob Murray also have a shot to see some action at the position. Catching casualties have been high so far this year as Williams has a hurt ankle, Friar a bad back, and Murray a bruised hand.
Although the pitching corps sustained two big losses from graduation in Mike O'Malley, one of the nation's earned run leaders last spring, and relieving ace Norm Walsh, now Crimson pitching coach, it will still be one of Harvard's strengths.
Southpaw Milt Holt will be Harvard's mound leader again this year. Holt won several key games for Harvard including a tight 2-1 decision over Penn ace Andy Muhlstock during the Crimson's pennant campaign and was the only Harvard selection to the All-Eastern squad last year.
Senior Driscoll will be another key man in the pitching rotation. Last year he pitched Harvard to the Eastern crown and into the World Series as he beat Princeton, 5-3, in the Eastern title playoff and then demolished New Hampshire, 6-0, in the NCAA District I championship game.
A third senior, Jim Harrell, looked promising at the end of last season which prompted Park to comment, "I hope that Jimmy can turn into a starter for us this year."
Pitching coach Walsh also has three juniors and two sophomores who have looked good in spring training so far. Mark Linehan, Bob Larson, and Tom Pura are the juniors on the staff while Ron Sen and Steve Baloff are the top two sophomores.
Other candidates for positions on the pitching staff include Nils Nilsen, Terry Shlimbaum and Keith Butler.
The last vacant slot in park's lineup is the designated bitter which was left empty by the graduation of All-GBL slugger Joe Mackey. The DH spot will be filled during the Crimson's 17-game road trip in Florida over spring vacation. Whoever wields the big bat during the citrus campaign will probably get the nod when Harvard gets back to Cambridge in April.
The Florida trip will feature five games against Niagara College and five games against the Montreal Expos' AA team, and will be the Crimson's final honing before the season. Harvard hosts Tufts and Boston College right off the bat on April 7 and 8 and then Columbia and Penn on April 11 and 12.
Last season the Crimson found itself mired in the middle of the Eastern standings and on the verge of being eliminated by the end of April. A rally in the last inning of the second game of a doubleheader with Cornell saved the Crimson's season hopes, but Harvard had to win two games each from Dartmouth, Princeton and Pennsylvania, and one from Navy to tie for the Eastern title with the Tigers. The Crimson won an emotional playoff contest with Princeton, 5-3, for the EIBL title and then breezed through the District 1 championships. The Crimson did a couple quick tangos with the grand dames of collegiate baseball in the college World Series in Omaha before making an exit out the back door after two straight losses.
This spring Penn, Princeton and Navy look to be the teams to beat in the Eastern League as they all have the whole clubs back. An early indication of how the Crimson will fare this season will come when the Harvard nine takes on the Quakers the first weekend in April.
Before the 1974 season, Park realized that his squad was full of potential. "I know we'll have a good team this year," he said, "but you know, the team that is going to go all the way should be next year's squad. That should really be the one." Hopefully, he will be right.