WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- With the season-opening weekend only three weeks away, Purdue baseball began official preseason practice Friday evening with a variety of drills and a scrimmage indoors in the Mollenkopf Athletic Center.
The Boilermakers and Indiana will be the Big Ten teams representing the league at the season-opening Big Ten/Big East Challenge. This year it's a downsized event in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area of Florida's Gulf Coast that will also feature Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida from the Big East. Purdue is scheduled to play four games in each of its first two weekends of the new season.
Thanks to college baseball's uniform opening day of Feb. 15, southern schools may be able to practice outdoors sooner, but cannot play an official game until their northern counterparts have the same opportunity. The Boilermakers will travel south for four of their first five weekends of the season during the nonconference portion of the schedule. The weekend of March 8-10, Purdue travels to Chicago for a series at Illinois-Chicago. The Flames' Les Miller Field features an all field turf artificial playing surface, limiting the impact weather can have on the series schedule.
Big Ten play begins the weekend of March 22-24, with the Boilers hosting Ohio State for the first time since 2009. It will also be the first weekend series in the history of Purdue's new home stadium, Alexander Field. The premiere week at the new stadium begins Tuesday, March 19 vs. UIC.
Having lost 14 seniors and three MLB-drafted juniors from the 2012 Big Ten championship team, newcomers make up a large part of the current Purdue roster and will likely need to have a significant impact on the program collectively for the Boilers to have a successful season. In 2010, the first of Purdue's current streak of three consecutive years with 33-plus wins, the coaching staff was able to meld a group of talented freshmen with a group of experienced seniors.
Current seniors like Angelo Cianfrocco, Pat Gannon, Robert Ramer, Brad Schreiber and Stephen Talbott were freshmen in 2010. They now represent the most experienced core of the returning roster. In 2010, there was a group of eight sophomores that earned increased playing time, many becoming regulars for the first time, and later emerging as the core of the senior class that led Purdue to the Big Ten title. Guys like Jack DeAno, Joe Eichmann, Mike Gaglianese, Brandon Krieg, Sean McHugh, Bennett Oliver, Kyle Upp and Kyle Wood will look to follow the lead of that 2012 senior class. Their opportunities to contribute to the Boilers' winning ways may have been limited a year ago, but they were still part of the most successful team in program history. It's difficult to view that experience as anything but a good thing, whether it was going up against the veterans in practice, observing the regulars on game day or being part of a nationally-ranked team that carried the distinction of being the hunted each and every weekend of Big Ten play.
Meanwhile, Purdue's current roster has a large group of freshman that will look to duplicate the success of the freshman of 2010, many of whom helped the Boilers record their most wins (33) since 2000 in their first season with the team. Some of the freshmen already made strong cases for playing time with their performances in fall practice and during the Black and Gold Series.
The Boilermakers will once again be challenged by their pre-Big Ten schedule. Nonconference opponents Louisville (No. 4) and Mississippi State (No. 5) were both among the top five in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 released this week. Purdue is scheduled to play both opponents twice. There are also five scheduled games against a Samford team that won two games at the Tallahassee Regional of the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The Boilers will play Connecticut (twice) and South Florida during the season-opening weekend as well.
While Purdue will continue to hold full team practices inside Mollenkopf, the new indoor hitting facility at Alexander Field has given the current Boilers a baseball-specific place to improve and perfect their skills throughout the late fall and winter months. The sheer size of Mollenkopf lends itself to continue the preseason practice regime that Purdue has utilized for many years, allowing for a more full-field atmosphere for scrimmages and larger team drills.
On Feb. 12, the Big Ten Conference office will release the top six teams in the preseason coaches poll as well as three players to watch from all 11 squads. Purdue has qualified for five consecutive Big Ten Tournaments, the longest active streak in the league, and won a conference-best 172 games (75 in conference) dating back to 2008.