As the majority of Pacific athletics focuses on fall sports, the transition into winter sports and the start of basketball, Pacific baseball has already been hard at work for weeks at Klein Family Field as it breaks in new players and works towards the 2019 season.
Pacific is coming off of a year in which the team brought in a new coaching staff led by head coach Ryan Garko, who left his role as the manager of the Tulsa Drillers, the AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, to take over the head job at Pacific. The Tigers went 22-29 last season and sent two pitchers, Shelby Lackey and Cooper Casad to the minor leagues.
Looking forward, the Tigers have brought in 19 new players to fill out their roster and build what will hopefully be a team that can contend to win West Coast Conference titles in years to come.
"Last year we started to lay the foundation for this program and our seniors were a big part of that," Garko said. "From a talent perspective, we're stronger than we were a year ago. Our culture is stronger this year; we don't have to do the team building that we did a lot of last year. We're excited about the guys that are back as well as the guys we brought in. We've got a locker room full of people that want to be here and are bought in to what we're trying to do."
While there are a lot of new faces in the Tiger clubhouse during this year's fall season, the fall itself has a different look than last year when it comes to what the Tigers are focused on in their time together. Last year, the team focused heavily on work on the field so that the new coaching staff could get to know the team better. This year, the focus is on strength and condition to help build a physically stronger and faster team for the spring. When the team is on the field, the focus is on technique and defensive fundamentals.
A big portion of Pacific's 19 newcomers are pitchers. Garko said a big part of this fall has been focused on them.
"We need to get our guys throwing innings and getting some of our new guys up against Division I hitters so they can get a feel for it. I'm excited to see what we have," Garko said. "There's a lot of new arms and those guys can develop this fall and see where guys might fit in our bullpen."
On the flipside, getting Pacific's new pitchers innings means more at bats for position players, at bats that Garko hopes will be taken selectively. He's hoping to see his hitters wait on their pitch and take good swings at strikes. If the Tigers can build those habits in the fall and take them into the spring, The Tigers can be a force to deal with in the WCC.
Another new twist this fall is one that affects all of the NCAA. This is the first year that teams are able to schedule two games against programs that will not count towards their regular season total. The opportunity to play something other than inter squad scrimmages is a welcome one.
"Those games will be fun. It's nice for our guys to get to face someone with a different jersey on," Garko said. "From a pitching standpoint, it won't be as controlled as what we do in practice. They'll have to go out and compete against another ball club. It's great that the NCAA is allowing us these two fall games, especially for our young guys to go out and play against quality competition. It will be a great way to gauge how they're doing."
Pacific plays its first exhibition of the fall this Saturday at 3 p.m. at home against San Francisco State. The exhibition will be preceded by the annual Alumni Game at Klein Family Field.