Thomas Nelson baseball players will get to put their hitting drills to good use when the season starts Feb. 7.
Todd Barker, who is in his first year as the baseball coach at Thomas Nelson, has a roster of mostly new players and only two returnees. But that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the season, which starts Feb. 7 in the Hampton Roads Cup at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton.
“I’m excited for the season, for sure,” he said. “I think the guys are all, too.”
The Gators have had just three weeks of practice and are in what Barker calls “hurry-up mode.” With so many new faces and a new coach, much of the first few weeks of spring practice have focused on instruction.
“They have all played high school baseball so there’s some background knowledge,” he said. “But every coach does things a little different. It’s getting them all on the same page as far as communication, terminology, what we call things, how we call things.”
He has about 15 players on the roster.
“I’m happy with what we’ve got,” Barker said. “I’ve got some very talented baseball players. The problem is we just don’t have a whole lot of depth.”
He said his best pitchers also are his best position players, which limits his options. He doesn’t have the luxury of having a backup at every spot or having his pitchers rest on their days off.
The strength of the team, he predicts, will be defense.
“I honestly think we’re going to have a very good infield,” he said. “We should be really strong up the middle: shortstop, second base and center field, and then we will fill in some holes around them as we go.”
Zach Haywood, a pitcher and third baseman who played at Menchville High School, is one of the returning players. He notices an improvement from last year’s team.
“We look more developed than last year, skill-wise,” he said. “I see more potential than what we had last year.”
Barker, who was the baseball coach at Warwick High School from 2002-16, admits he doesn’t know too much about the Gators’ opponents, although he knows there are some very good teams in the conference. He is familiar with the Apprentice School and Paul D. Camp programs.
“They play good baseball,” he said. “We’re going to have to show up.”
Barker isn’t putting a lot of expectations on his team. He said he’s going to treat the three games of the Hampton Roads Cup as exhibitions, even though they aren’t. He needs to see what his team can do against competition after seeing them just in the batting cages and on the practice field.
“I’m not worried about wins and losses this year,” he said. “I just want to be able to compete, battle, make every game a good baseball game. Anytime someone beats us, I want to make sure they earn it. That’s the goal.”
Feb. 7: vs. Apprentice School, 3 p.m.*
Feb. 8: vs. Apprentice School, 10 a.m.*
Feb. 8: vs. Paul D. Camp, 12:30 p.m.*
Feb. 15: College of Southern Maryland, 1 p.m. (DH)
Feb. 29: Monroe Community College (Rochester, N.Y.), noon, (DH)
March 1: Monroe Community College (Rochester, N.Y.), noon
March 7: Monroe College (Bronx), noon, (DH)
March 8: Monroe College (Bronx), noon
March 11: at Atlantic Christian University, 4 p.m.
March 21: at Rockingham Community College, noon, (DH)**
March 22: at Rockingham Community College, 1 p.m.**
March 28: Surry Community College, 1 p.m. (DH)**
March 29: Surry Community College, TBD**
April 1: at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, 4 p.m.
April 4: at Caldwell Community College, TBD, (DH)**
April 5: at Caldwell Community College, TBD**
April 18: Rockingham Community College, TBD (DH)**
April 19: Rockingham Community College, TBD**
April 25: at Surry Community College, TBD, (DH)**
April 26: at Surry Community College, TBD**
May 2: Caldwell Community College, TBD, (DH)**
May 3: Caldwell Community College, TBD, (DH)**
May 5: at Apprentice School, 5 p.m.
* Hampton Roads Cup at War Memorial Stadium, each game seven innings;
** Conference games