After a disappointing 14-36 season last year, new Ball State baseball coach Rich Maloney returns to try to spark a program that has struggled since he left in 2002. Returning from a 10-year stint as Michigan’s head coach, Maloney thinks that although the veterans on the team are important, the key will how younger players emerge.

Managing the team from 1996-2002, Maloney brought Ball State four MAC West titles and won 64 percent of his games.

Maloney is confident that he can do it again, although he believes it starts with the younger players emerging and breaking through their ceilings

“Sam Tidaback, this freshman has come in as a catcher and has really taken ownership of the job,” Maloney said. “It’s hard to play that position and be a starter when you’re so young, but we love the development we’ve seen out of him.”

Tidaback earned Maloney’s praise through hard work during the offseason. Maloney said that Tidaback will get the bulk of the starts, over juniors Tyler Curry and Seth Vautaw.

The catcher position will be manned by an all-new group this season, as last year’s group all either transferred or graduated.

Ball State’s pitching rotation is expected to be headed by senior Chris Marangon, followed by junior Nestor Bautista and sophomore Scott Baker.

Maloney was especially excited about the lefty Bautista, who he has high hopes for.

“Bautista has shown tremendous signs, success is looking like it’s right there to be had for him.” Maloney said.

However, last season, Bautista was statistically Ball State’s worst pitcher. His ERA was over 10 in 34 innings pitched.

Out of his infielders, Maloney singled out Elbert Devarie. Maloney called Devarie a “slick fielder,” and said that he’s become much more consistent in his entire game since last fall.

Improvement on offense will be necessary if Ball State wants to compete in the MAC West. Finishing last with a .249 batting average last season, Maloney wants his team to concentrate on doing the little things to score runs this season.

He hopes that the offense will be jump started by senior Wes Winkle’s speed and the hitting from Sean Godfrey and Blake Beemer. Godfrey led the team in steals last season, with 13 steals in 15 attempts. 

Maloney said that he hopes T.J. Weir will develop into a consistent power hitter who can be a key part of the team.

Weir was able to showcase some of his power last season, as he tied for the team lead in home runs last season with four, albeit on 169 at bats.

“We’re going to have to do all of the little things well,” Maloney said. “We’ll have to drag bunt, squeeze, hit and run, be extremely active. All of our guys are going to have to be very active for us to win.”

Maloney noted that how a team finishes can be just as important as how they start. He mentioned that Miles Moeller and Jon Cisna are capable late inning pitchers who younger pitchers can look up to.

Ball State lost several players over the offseason to graduation and transfer. Despite that, Ball State has players like Marangon and Bautista along with Beemer and Godfrey who will need to step up in order to achieve victory.

In order for a team to improve, the players have to perform at a higher level than they did in previous season, often setting new career highs. Maloney thinks he’s seen vast improvement across the board since last fall.

“For a team to turn around its misfortunes of the past, you have to have guys that step up,” Maloney said. “They have to have years that have been different from their career averages. Our guys are eager, and I’m really eager to see them make that improvement in the actual games.”

When a new coach enters a program, there can be a period of adjustment and uncertainty. Coaches often have their own unique system, and the players have to be willing to commit to it to have success.

For Maloney’s team, this hasn’t been a problem. 

“The effort and attitude has been outstanding,” Maloney said. “There’s been a complete buy in. It’s been enjoyable from a coaching standpoint.”

As the team gears up to open the season this weekend on the road against Middle Tennessee State, the change in coaching staff seems to have fired up many players. 

Maloney said that the team has embraced all facets of the change in coaching, and he hopes that it translates to improved play on the field.

“These men are hungry, especially the seniors, who are eager to do something for Ball State,” Maloney said. “They want it so bad. I’m excited to see them compete, and to go out to battle with them.”