“It was all I lived for, to play baseball.” – Mickey Mantle
Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 9, 2012 14:02
Those students looking to attend Western Oregon University can be assured of only a few things during their tenure: 1) the price of books will always be surprisingly high, 2) you will inevitably spend time walking to classes in the rain, and 3) the Wolves will be competing for their next Great Northwest Athletic Conference title.
The Wolves are coming off a 2011 season in which they went 37-15 and won their 10th straight GNAC title (11th straight overall) with a 27-5 record to qualify for the NCAA West Regional for the third time in four seasons. Head coach Jeremiah Robbins has put together a sparkling 202-98 record, including a 141-31 mark in GNAC play, during his six seasons in Monmouth but he believes that his seventh year could be the special one.
The Wolves will return 16 letterwinners, including all four members of the starting pitching staff in the team's quest to reach the NCAA Division II Championships in Cary, N.C. The first step on that journey to the Promised Land will start as it always does for the Wolves under coach Robbins, against the best talent the West Region has to offer.
Early season: The Wolves will open the season at No. 30, UC San Diego on Friday, Feb. 3, for a four-game series as they look to get revenge against the team that eliminated them from the 2011 West Regional.
"Looking at UC San Diego we know they are very good," said Robbins. "They lost some of their core but they have reloaded very nicely and once again it is a championship atmosphere down there. We are definitely going into a hostile environment against a polished team that is very well coached and it will be a big task for us to go down there and find ways to play the game right.
"The score will be what it is, and we won't focus on that. We are going to focus on us and playing good Wolves baseball," Robbins added.
The Wolves will then travel up the coast to face Sonoma State who won the West Regional and reached the semifinal of the NCAA Championships. Western will face the Seawolves in a five-game set beginning on Feb. 8.
"We take it game by game, and we do not put any more emphasis on one game than the next, but whenever you go out of conference in region they are important games," explained Robbins. "We do not put more emphasis on it than the NNU or Saint Martin's series, but the talent we are playing is very good."
Training: Despite the challenges Western Oregon faces to open the season on the road, with the limited number of outdoor practices, the team has been working tirelessly to prepare both physically and mentally for their opening road trip. The team has taken up a focused strength and conditioning program under Western's first year Director of Sports Performance Cori Metzgar-Deacon to fine tune its stamina and movements. The baseball coaches have also been working on preparing the team on the mental side and building their confidence.
"Sometimes when we open in California our confidence can take a hit but we have to just keep believing and fighting," Robbins said. "Things have flown by to get to this point in the season and things can get overwhelming but you have to have that quiet confidence and know you are going to succeed. We preach to all the guys to just believe in their talents and it will be interesting to see how they respond when they get knocked down."
Coach Robbins also talked about the steps members of this team have taken outside the game of baseball to improve the team as the team quickly acclimated all the newcomers and transfers to Wolves' baseball early in the school year.
"The chemistry (on the team) has been very good since day one," Robbins explained. "I have talked with everybody just how close knit this team is. That is one thing we have missed here before, getting that chemistry early. We always get it but it is usually halfway through the season when guys figure it out, but we did it much quicker this year, so it has been great to be a part of."
Goals: As that team came together and started working for one another, coach Robbins and his staff also made sure to indoctrinate the culture of discipline and expectations established within the Western baseball program.
"Our number one goal every season is to defend our GNAC title," Robbins said. "It is something we are very proud of and our guys do not take it lightly. It is a tough title to defend whenever you are facing a team eight times and we embrace the challenge. That is why we play the teams we do in the preseason; we feel it prepares us to play our league schedule."
Even with the walls in the New PE Building becoming overrun with GNAC baseball championships and player of the year honors, coach Robbins has not become the slightest bit complacent as he continues to set the sights beyond just the GNAC title as he looks to bring Western its first ever Regional title and ticket to the College World Series.
"Our other two goals fall right in line behind that number one goal because without the first goal you do not even get to try for our other two goals which are to win the West Regional and the National Championship," Robbins noted. "I feel they are very realistic goals. I know I am one of over 200 coaches in Division II that has the goal of winning a National Championship.