If one takes a walk into the fieldhouse these days, they’ll be greeted by the sounds of bats clinking and balls smacking against leather. That’s the Swarthmore College Baseball Team, hard at work as they prepare for their season. The Garnet team, coached by Matt Midkiff, is looking to rebound from a tough season which saw them finish with an overall record of 22-17-1, but a losing record in conference play of 6-11-1, earning them second to last in the Centennial Conference.
Last season saw the departure of key players Nate Booth ’16, Roy Walker ’16, and David Wolfson ’16. Booth pitched for the Garnet and posted a 2.06 ERA to go along with 35 strikeouts in 11 starts last year. Walker, the team’s right fielder, was the Garnet’s best hitter last season. He led the team with a .349 batting average and 36 RBIs while also playing stellar defense. Wolfson contributed 14 RBIs and 2 home runs, adding some power to the Garnet offense. The Garnet also lost Brian Gibbs ’17 who started 9 games as a pitcher, posting a 3.07 ERA while striking out 64.
Though the graduated seniors will be missed, the Garnet brought in a very large and strong recruiting class, including 18 freshmen who made the roster. The Garnet also return some key parts, most notably Wesley Fishburn ’17. Fishburn started all 35 games as a freshman in 2014, batting a solid .286 and contributing 12 RBIs. But his performance as a sophomore was truly a revelation for the Garnet. Fishburn batted .399 for the season and set a Swarthmore single-season record with 59 hits. He won the Centennial Conference Golden Glove Award, given to the best defensive player in the league and was also named to a number of all-star teams, including the All-Centennial Conference First Team and ABCA/Rawlings Mid-Atlantic All-Region second team. His junior season was not as spectacular but still impressive, finishing second on the team in batting average and RBIs. Fishburn, who tore his ACL in the final game of the 2016 season, is not yet at full health, but once he is, he will be a menace for opposing pitchers as he looks to cap off his exemplary career for the Garnet. Jaron Shrock ’18 returns as the backstop for the Garnet after a solid sophomore campaign cut short by injury. Charles Groppe ’19 also returns for the Garnet after his freshman season in which he posted a 3.33 ERA and struck out 36 in 8 starts and 12 total appearances. Griffin Kammerer ’18, a hard-throwing relief pitcher, looks to be effective this year as well.
In an effort to be a step above the rest of the competition, the Garnet coaching staff has started holding 6 a.m. practices every Tuesday and Thursday. These practices primarily focus on conditioning drills and improving the fitness of the team. However, they also serve another purpose: to help with team-building and to give the team experience with adversity, something they will often face as they head into the thick of the season, playing four or five games each week and often two in one day.
Sawyer Lake ’20, a pitcher on the team, said, “We work hard and we’re proud of the fact that we’re training when everyone else is asleep. It’s been a great bonding experience, it’s something we all take part in. No matter the position, no matter the year, it’s the whole team putting in the effort to edge out our competitors.”
Hopefully for the Garnet, their 6 a.m. workouts will pay dividends. With the new training routine and the many new faces, the players have a lot to be excited about.
Fishburn said, “We’ve got some really talented freshmen and some upperclassmen who’ve worked really hard to take the next step, so I’m confident that we’ve got the talent to make a playoff push.”
Fishburn admits the team still has a lot of unknowns because of its youth but expects that many players, both freshmen and underclassmen alike, will step up and take important roles.
The players are also very excited to get back onto the new and improved diamond at Clothier Fields.
Outfielder Ryan Burnett ’17 said, “Our field has been undergoing a lot of renovations and we’re ready to get back out there, especially with the addition of our new press box and stadium seating that will allow everyone that comes out to a game to be more involved.”
Hopefully Garnet fans will come out in force this year to cheer on this Swarthmore squad that’s looking to strike big. The team plays their first game of the season on Feb. 25 at Arcadia University. After that, they’ll travel down to Fort Myers, Florida for spring break, playing in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic. They’ll play 10 games total in this tournament against such schools as Hiram College and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Then, they play their home opener on Mar. 18 against Penn State Berks. Centennial Conference play starts on Apr. 1 with a doubleheader at Johns Hopkins, last year’s Centennial Conference champion.
The Garnet, with a plethora of youthful talent, look poised to fight for a top spot in the Centennial Conference this year and in years to come.