Tyler Poslosky

The frigid February air marks the beginning of another season of baseball for colleges across the nation.

Following a 29-29 season in 2010, a busy offseason filled coach Alex Marconi's schedule, who was named the ninth head coach in Ball State history after spending the past five years as an assistant with the Cardinals.

Marconi replaces Greg Beals after Beals left for the coaching vacancy at Ohio State.

Despite it being his first year as the coach, Marconi has high expectations for his club, who are picked to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference West Division this season.

"I'm expecting our guys to work extremely hard," Marconi said. "I'm expecting them to compete every pitch, every inning [and] every game. Our guys [need] to gain experience, especially the young guys. It's going to be a season where we have a lot of young guys playing."

Marconi said he is an old school coach whose core values consist of old-fashioned hard work and grind-it-out baseball.

"I want my guys to hustle [and] play hard," Marconi said. "I want them to be hard-nosed. You can teach that to a certain degree, and sometimes it's in the kid. We do our best to try and instill that in our guys."

Even with pitcher Perci Garner, infielder Kolbrin Vitek and catcher Zach Dygert all leaving because of the Major League Baseball Draft, Ball State will be returning 18 letterwinners, including five starters this season.

Among the group of returning starters is senior T.J. Baumet, who has been the Cardinals starting shortstop for the past three seasons.

Last season, Baumet posted a .337 batting average, with 83 hits and 40 RBIs. This season, the Cardinal captain wants the team to play as a unit.

"We're a family and we've got to find a way to get better every day and outcompete the other team," Baumet said.

Thrown into the mix of the four seniors are 11 true freshmen and four redshirt freshmen.

Baumet said it can be difficult to have to go through some of the struggles freshmen tend to experience at times, but it can also be fun.

"The younger guys bring a lot of energy," Baumet said. "Sometimes they have no idea what's going on, and some of the older guys are letting them do their thing even though it's completely wrong."

Playing the game he loves without Vitek around can be a challenging task for Baumet, but he has faith in his teammates.

"He's a big bat in our lineup," Baumet said. "He's definitely going to be missed. I mean, it's Kolbrin Vitek. It's a tough spot to fill, but we're going to do it to the best of our ability."

A promising first year for a couple of returning starters has Marconi anxiously awaiting his team's full potential. Sophomores Blake Beemer and Stephen Claypool are going to be relied on more this season contrary to last.

"These guys are going to be a big part of our offense," Marconi said. "The key for them is trying not to do too much. Just go out there and be the hitters that they are."

As the three-four-hole hitters, Beemer and Claypool aren't the typical three-four duo.

"We don't expect home runs from them," Marconi said. "They're not home run hitters, but they are doubles hitters. We expect them to be on base and drive some runs in for us."

To accompany his high expectations, Marconi is reaching for the stars in terms of his team's goals.

"I want to win championships," he said. "Even though we have a young team, our goal is to win a MAC Championship. [We could] be in a position at the end of the [season] to either win a regular season or MAC Tournament championship."