Rookies bolster men’s baseball going into conference play

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Off to an impactful 16-5 start this season, Swarthmore men’s baseball is eager to face their first conference opponent, Dickinson, this Saturday. In the 2015 season, the team also began with a 16-5 record but struggled to maintain their winning record when conferences began. However, this year’s team is confident that their talent and focus will not allow for a repeat. Such confidence is due in large part to an impressive first-year class and a revitalized team work ethic that have driven every member of the team to work harder.

“The freshmen have made a huge difference. They have come in and pushed some of the existing players, ultimately bringing up everyone’s level of play,” said left-handed pitcher Brian Gibbs ’17.

Standout first-years include pitcher Charles “Hot Charles” Groppe ’19, the team leader in ERA (2.16), outfielder Charlie Levitt ’19, who possesses the team’s third best batting average (.328), and infielder Nico Aldaco ’19, who ranks in the team’s top five of hits, runs scored, and steals.

Despite the 2019 class’ contributions, head coach Matt Midkiff believes that improvements in the team’s mentality and focus, and revisions in the practice program are the main factors driving the team’s success.

“The biggest change in the program has been efficiency. Our practices have been very focused and concise and the players have been very enthusiastic about that adjustment… We expect that every player steps up and performs to their ability. As a team, our work ethic has been quite strong and I think all of our players have really focused on what they can do to help the team,” Midkiff remarked.

As a result of these improvements, the team has been stronger in all three phases of the game—pitching, hitting and fielding—a versatility that will prove to be crucial when facing more challenging conference opponents. Currently, the team has seven players with batting averages above .300, six pitchers with ERA’s below 3.20, and a team fielding percentage of .948—all of which best last year’s statistics.

When asked what he thinks the team’s greatest strength is this year, Gibbs pinpointed this versatility: “For the first time in my 3 years here, I think we have a solid team all around with no real gaping holes. The fielding has been solid for the most part. The starting pitching has been good, guys have come in and thrown strikes and Aidan Miller ’17 has really embraced the closer role. Lastly, I think the lineup is solid 1-9. There’s no spot in the game anymore where I feel like our lineup hits a dead spot.”

Perhaps the most important contributor to the team’s early success is their strong clubhouse chemistry; something that quickly becomes apparent to any fan watching a Swarthmore baseball game. The team is rowdy, energetic, and most importantly, supportive of one another.

“I think team chemistry is actually our strongest asset. I can easily say that as a freshman I felt welcomed on the first day of practice in the fall, and many of my teammates have told me they think this is one of the most fun squads they’ve played with in a long time. We all get along well both on and off the field, and our closeness as a team transfers directly to our success,” said Groppe.

While the team is close-knit and enjoy playing together, they recognize that it can occasionally get in the way of their focus—something they cannot afford to compromise with the coming of conference play.

“I think the biggest area that we need to work on going into the conference season is focusing early and minimizing mental and physical errors in the field,” commented outfielder Roy Walker ’16—the team leader in batting average (.400).

Midkiff agrees. The squad’s performance thus far has proved that his players have both the talent and motivation to succeed, but he believes the team’s future success will hinge on how they approach the mental aspect of the game.

“I think our mental toughness will determine our success this year. During the course of a conference season there are a lot of ups and downs. It will be how we respond that will determine our ultimate success this season,” said Midkiff.

With a full conference season ahead, maintaining focus throughout every inning will be a challenge. However, the team’s talent and hard effort has shone so far and shows no sign of stopping. To the players of the Centennial Conference, Swarthmore baseball has a message for you: “Watch out, Hot Charles is on the loose, and he’s coming for you.”

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