As the Harvard baseball team prepares to embark on a new season, it looks to expand upon the growth that it experienced last year.
“I thought we competed well last year,” Coach Bill Decker said. “I really thought we grew. We did some nice things offensively, we played good team defense, and we pitched well as well. We saw all of those three phases improve.”
Harvard’s 22-20 record marked its first season above a .500 win percentage since 2006, the last year in which it took first place in the Ivy League. Leading the team during last year’s fruitful season were pitchers Simon Rosenblum-Larson and Noah Zavolas, both of whom currently find themselves involved in the farm systems of Major League Baseball franchises.
“We’re going to miss those guys,” senior pitcher Kevin Stone said. “Noah was the Ivy League pitcher of the year last year and Simon was the next guy in line to win that award.”
Stone is one starting pitcher who will help the Harvard pitching staff fill in the holes left by Zavolas and Rosenblum-Larson. Additionally, senior Ian Miller is coming back to Harvard after sitting out last season due to injury, and sophomore Buddy Hayward is coming off of an encouraging summer to expand upon the five starts he threw during his freshman season.
“I don’t think [losing Zavolas and Rosenblum-Larson] will be much of a problem given the depth that we have,” Stone remarked. “In fact, I’m excited about what we’re bringing to the table.”
What will perhaps be missed more than the mound presence of Zavolas and Rosenblum-Larson is their locker room presence — and the locker room presence of many of the outgoing seniors, for that matter.
“The thing about last season was that we had some nice leadership from the guys who are no longer here,” Coach Decker commented. “I think that’s the biggest void, but it’s just about continuing the process. Now, it’s somebody else who has to step up.”
Captains Jake Allen and Chase Aldridge are a couple of members of the team that will look to fill that leadership role this spring.
“Jake and Chase are awesome,” sophomore outfielder Tommy Seidl said. “They are the perfect dynamic of leaders. They’re both great leaders by example. It’s good to have leaders that aren’t just good baseball players but also set the tone for how you should act on and off the field.”
“We’re trying to get an infectious leadership in our locker room,” Decker added. “Where guys can invest in one another, guys can do the little things together.”
Over the course of their winter break excursion to the Dominican Republic, the team began to build a strong locker room culture and worked to change their mentality about the game.
“It expanded our view and made us more relaxed about baseball,” Seidl commented. “It helped us change our approach a little bit. A lot of times, we take it too seriously. But the Dominican players know how to really make the most out of it — the first thing is that they’re having fun.”
Additionally, the team used the experience as an opportunity to improve their skills on the diamond against top-notch local talent.
“It was an unreal experience — we got progressively better every single day,” Seidl said. “We just started playing better baseball. It was really good to see live pitching; it was awesome to go down there and just interact with the locals of Santo Domingo. My favorite part was playing against the Boca Chica Allstars, a group of Major League prospects.”
Returning to campus in mid-January, the team got right to work. After a bumpy start due to malfunctions with the practice bubble over the football field, the team was finally able to get into a solid training routine.
“I think they’ve done a good job taking control of what we can control” Decker said. “We’ve been kind of all over the place with the bubble situation, but our guys trained really well whether it was on campus or using off-campus facilities. They’re getting better as a team and getting better as individuals, just working on the little parts of the game that are really important.”
Despite the exciting prospect of a new season, the team is keeping its head down, just focusing on the games at hand on a week-by-week basis.
“The only thing I am really concerned about is right now,” Coach Decker said. “What we’re going to be able to do down in South Carolina against Wofford and how we prepare for that series. Making sure we can play clean and relaxed — just kind of play catch. These are the things we should focus on — one series, one game at a time.”
This weekend, the team heads on its first road trip of the season. Despite not being Ivy League play, the matchups against Wofford College down in Spartanburg, S.C., offer the team an opportunity to start off the season on the right foot.
“[Despite being non-conference], these games do matter,” Seidl commented. “We want to do well, we want to get out-of-league wins because it’s good to show that you can compete against those guys too.”
“We’re going at it like everything matters — of course, Ivy League [games] matter more — but we go into this full blown, ready to go, trying to get W’s” Stone added. “Playing out-of-conference competition is really good for us, because we get to stack ourselves up against some better teams than we might see in the Ivy League. Typically, we’ll play some schools from bigger conferences and more baseball-centered programs. Not only does it give us a good reference point to where we are and what we have to work on, but traveling with the team brings us all closer together. It’s a big bonding experience.”
“It’s about staying where you need to be,” Coach Decker remarked, agreeing with the importance of staying grounded. “Don’t let the game speed you up, stay who you are and analyze situations. It’s about good pitching, good at bat, and good defense.”
The allure of Ivy League play is nonetheless captivating the attention of the squad, despite the thirteen non-conference games that come before the Ancient Eight opener at Penn. The Crimson will look to expand upon its fourth-place finish in the conference last season.
“I think fourth place is a bit misleading because we were a game or two away from being in the final championship series,” Stone had to say. “We’re playing like we expect to be in the final series of the year, and we’re carrying ourselves like that. It’s super energizing.”
“The Ivy League is important, and that’s really what we play for,” Coach Decker said. “But we’ve got to take care of those first games, whoever they’re against.”
All in all, the team feels ready and excited for the dawn of a new season — a new chance to demonstrate all their growth and hard work from the offseason as they officially take the diamond for the first time in months. This, after all, is what they live for.
“We’re getting back on the field,” Seidl said. “We haven’t been on an actual diamond that’s not covered by a bubble since the fall — besides the D.R., obviously — but going and actually competing against other teams, that’s really what it’s about.”
“We’re looking forward to getting going,” Coach Decker concluded. “I think we’re all excited about it. From our staff to our support staff to our players, I just think that there’s a good feeling. I think we’re in a good spot. But now, we’re going to find out.”
— Staff writer Jackson Delgado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Staff writer Amir Mamdani contributed reporting.