The same weather that drew rave reviews from the out-of-town visitors to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl last week has also been a boon for Ball State baseball. Almost since Jan. 27, the first day the NCAA permits baseball practices, the weather in Muncie has allowed the Cardinals to leave their normal winter home of the Field Sports Building for the roomier turf fields in the Briner Sports Complex.
The opportunity to get outside before Ball State heads south to start the season – this year on Feb. 17 against Dayton in Spartanburg, S.C. – is almost unheard of. In just the first week of preseason, the Cardinals went outdoors three times, more times than coach Alex Marconi can remember in any of his previous six preseasons at Ball State combined.
The experience is invaluable, especially for a young team. The ceiling of the Field Sports Building is too low for fly balls, rendering most outfield drills useless.
While the Cardinals haven't been able to scrimmage or use Ball Diamond yet, Marconi has made the most of the opportunity the break in the weather has given his team.
"It is the closest thing to a real baseball game that we can experience at this point," Marconi said. "Going out three times this week has been more beneficial than anything we can do inside."
With Ball State coming off the worst year in the program's history since 1995, it can use any extra advantage. The Cardinals went 15-35 last year and missed the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the first time since 1996. Ball State also lost key contributors from the 2011 team, including center fielder Cody Elliott, who was drafted by the Indians in the 21st round, shortstop T.J. Baumet and starting pitchers Derek Grabner and Morgan Coombs.
Those losses mean the Cardinals will once again be reliant on younger players to step into important roles on the field.
"We are still fairly young and a little bit inexperienced at some important positions, so we'll see," Marconi said. "We'll be as good as those younger and a little bit more inexperienced players allow us to be."
Second baseman Mitch Widau now finds himself as one of just four seniors on the roster. Widau, who led the Cardinals with a .433 on-base percentage last season, said he hasn't adjusted much about how he approaches practice, but he knows the younger players are now looking up to him.
With two weeks left before Opening Day, Widau said the Cardinals still have work to do, but time to do it in.
"We're getting there," he said. "We have a couple of weeks left to polish it."