Baseball Opened Fall Practice Sunday
The regular season is tough to beat, but in some ways, this might be Rucker Taylor‘s favorite time of year.
Taylor’s Davidson baseball team opened fall practice Sunday afternoon at Wilson Field, and will hold 27 team sessions in a 45-day window.
It’s a time when more focus is on the process of daily improvement rather than the win-loss results and stats that get much of the attention in the spring.
“We want to see them close the gap from what they currently do and what they eventually want to do,” says Taylor.
The fall is also a time when team chemistry takes shape, and in 2020, that is even more of a priority. Typically, the Wildcats will have had multiple in-person team meetings by now, but with COVID-19’s impact, Sunday will be the first time the 2021 team will gather together. They have had small group and one-on-one interactions, but being at Wilson Field together will be a welcome change from the Zoom screen.
“I think getting back and being with everyone, spending that quality time and hearing the laughs … it’ll definitely be fun to get back to that,” says infielder Alex Fedje-Johnson.
Fall practice will look different this year, but most of the on-field activities will be largely the same. By now, players are used to wearing their protective face coverings, and Taylor has opted for a clear face shield. Instead of standing close together in groups in between reps, the players will spread out more and utilize both dugouts. Pitchers have numbered baseballs and will warm up with the same balls and throwing partners each day. Adjustments have been made across the board, and it’s all just become part of what is necessary to play this year, like everyone chipping in to pick up baseballs after a round of BP.
“We’ve got to do those things,” says Taylor. “There are some sacrifices you have to make on the front end with it.”
The Wildcats were off to a hot start in 2020 when the pandemic abruptly ended the season two days after their 7-6 walk-off win over Duke. The Wildcats’ 13-3 record was the best in modern era, but the season ended right there.
This year, Davidson returns its weekend pitching rotation of Gabe Levy, Blake Hely and Alex Fenton, who combined to go 9-1 with a 1.90 ERA last year. Bennett Flynn locked down the back end of the bullpen with four saves as a freshman and returns having proven he can handle that role.
The NCAA’s waiver for 2020 seniors allowed Fedje-Johnson to return, and he will look to capitalize on a much-improved performance at the plate (.298). Ruben Fontes, the Atlantic 10’s home run leader in 2019, is back, as is Parker Nolan, who tied for the Davidson team lead with four round-trippers in 2020. Fellow outfielder Trevor Candelaria returns as well, as do shortstop Jacob Hinderleider, outfielder Henry Koehler and catcher Garrett Browder, who combined for 28 starts as freshmen.
While the calendar year has certainly included less game play than usual, many Wildcats were able to play in summer leagues, most notably Fontes, who was among the San Diego League’s leaders in home runs and RBIs and earned first-team All-SDL honors.
Nine freshmen comprise the incoming recruiting class, and Taylor is ready to work them in, as the Wildcats return to action and get started on 2021.
“We were really looking forward to getting this class to campus,” he says.