LEWISTON —Edwin Thompson gathered his team before practice and channeled his inner Gordon Gekko for a message that he hopes will help carry Bates College baseball to unprecedented success in 2010.
Greed is good.
Most coaches in their second season at a school with as uninspiring a recent baseball history as Bates might just ask their players to set their sights on posting the school’s first winning record since 1993. Thompson certainly has made that a primary goal after a 12-22 2009 season, but he is quick to remind his young team that they could, and should, dream bigger. The Bobcats should be thinking about their first NESCAC tournament appearance ever, their first NESCAC title ever, even a miracle run to the NCAA Division III title.
Such talk doesn’t usually circulate Leahy Field on windy March afternoons, so Thompson doesn’t have to worry about having his team’s attention.
“It’s different for Bates,” said junior catcher Gordy Webb, a former Bangor standout. “Usually for Bates, it’s try to make the NESCAC playoffs. This year, that’s a must. If we’re in the playoffs, we’re going to win.”
Already, the Bobcats are close to exceeding last year’s win total. A couple of successful trips south and a doubleheader sweep of Husson last week has them 8-3 (including 3-1 against Division II schools). Their home opener is Thursday against the University of Maine at Farmington, then they kick off their NESCAC schedule over the weekend hosting Tufts in a three-game series.
The offense has carried the Bobcats this far. They are hitting .370 and averaging more than nine runs per game.
“Really we have about 12 guys that have all hit,” Thompson said. “All of our every-day guys are hitting over .300, and through 11 games, that’s pretty good.”
“It gets contagious,” he added. “We call it a ‘Cat Attack.'”
Thompson is happy to see his team swing the bats so well. But he expected the offense to be the Bobcats’ strength this year so, continuing on the greed theme, he wants them to build on big innings.
“We have the ability to score 10 runs a game,” Thompson said. “They’ve got nine right now, but they have the potential (for 10), no matter who we play.”
Thompson attributes the pumped up offense to placing a number of his players in various wooden bat leagues around the country last summer.
“Their confidence level is just through the roof, and with the other guys it’s just a year of maturity,” Thompson said.
Junior first baseman/pitcher Noah Lynd agreed.
“We faced some real good pitchers down there, guys coming from D-I programs, so anyone we see here, we know we can hit them,” said Lynd, who played in the Maryland Collegiate League
The Bobcats’ lineup is thriving with a core of talented juniors. Lynd, who drove in eight runs in a 23-7 win over Husson last week, one shy of the school record, is slugging 1.030 for Bates with a team-high five home runs. Catcher/outfielder Jake Simon leads the team with 20 RBIs. Second baseman Noah Burke is batting .471, while outfielder Chris Burke, who set a school record for hits in a season last year, is batting .366.
“We all trust each other,” Lynd said. “If they pitch around a guy, we know the next guy is going to pick them up. We have nine guys in our lineup who can be hot at any one time.”
Thompson is looking for his pitching staff to start heating up. The Bobcats have a 5.78 team ERA. The bullpen has struggled so far, but the top three starters, juniors Paul Chiampa and Ryan Heide and sophomore Karl Alexander, are a combined 8-0 thanks to their resiliency.
“I think what has made a difference this year is our pitchers can go longer,” Webb said. “Paul Chiampa threw 160 pitches (against Husson) and his arm feels fine. Our pitchers now have stamina and that’s what we need in NESCAC. We need pitchers that, if they have a bad inning, they can come back and have two good innings.”
Bates’ pitching will be a key to its playoff hopes, and it will have to come around quickly. The Bobcats travel to perennial power Trinity in a little over a week for three games, followed by CBB series with Colby and Bowdoin and single games at the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine.
Whether its a NESCAC or non-conference opponent on the schedule, Thompson has told his team to think of the season in segments of three-game series and to focus on winning each series. Winning close games is also a priority after going 2-10 last year in games decided by two runs or less. NESCAC is split into two divisions, with the top two from each division moving on to the conference playoffs, so there is little margin for error.
“After Trinity, we feel that we’re good enough to be in that mix,” Thompson said. “Last year, we lost five conference games last year by two runs or less, so we were right there. I think the confidence we have from the record we have right now and already having played very good teams, that has helped us prepare for our conference.”
The growing pains of 2009 are gone, replaced by growing confidence, Thompson said.
“It’s that second year,” he said. “I think they trust what we’re doing a little bit. Especially with a group that has only three seniors with one that plays every day regularly and is still learning how to do it all. They’ve definitely bought into things 100 percent and that’s all on them.”