Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For Hofstra baseball, better days are here

The last image of the season for the Flying Dutchmen baseball team was anything but the lasting one. Indeed, it seemed a bit cruel that the year ended with Matt Prokopowicz flying out for the final out of a 9-4 loss to Old Dominion May 23 that capped a season-ending three-game sweep at the hands of the Monarchs.

Few players in Hofstra history made outs as irregularly as Prokopowicz, who hit .431 this year (third in the CAA), finished his career with a .376 average and owns the school record for hits in a season (82 as a freshman in 2007) and career (271).

And despite the quiet ending to the 2010 campaign that dropped the Dutchmen into eighth place in the CAA, no team in the CAA exceeded expectations quite like Hofstra, which finished last each of the previous three seasons and was a unanimous pick to finish last in the league in the preseason.

The Dutchmen recovered from an 0-10 start—including three losses apiece to Florida State, Troy and Maryland—and a six-game losing streak early in the CAA schedule to go 9-1-1 in a span of 11 late-season games and remain in contention for one of the four CAA playoff berths until the final Friday of the year. The last weekend might have turned out much differently if the CAA hadn’t reduced the number of teams in the baseball tournament from six to four (SOUTHERN BIAS!!!) this season.

All that with a roster that features 19 freshmen and a handful of promising players who were redshirted this season. “Obviously, we want more, but to be honest with you, we’re very happy with the progression,” second-year coach Patrick Anderson said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re excited about [the] direction [the program] is going.”

Anderson is the one coach on campus for whom the geography of the CAA presents an obvious disadvantage. Seven of the 11 baseball schools in the CAA are located in Virginia or points further south and no team north of Virginia has ever won the championship (Delaware and Towson have lost twice apiece in the championship game). Ten CAA alumni began the season on a Major League Baseball roster, including former Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander and reigning AL home run champion Carlos Pena.

The path to contention in the CAA seems particularly challenging for Hofstra, which hasn’t finished with a winning conference record since it was in the piecemeal ECC in the early ‘90s. But in Anderson, a former minor league instructor with the Kansas City Royals, the Dutchmen seem to have the stability and legitimacy the program has lacked since Rich Martin—the winningest coach in school history—was forced out after the 1996 season.

“I played ball down south, so I know the deal—it’s warmer weather, that’s it,” Anderson said. “When we get kids who are going to be able to grind and bust their tail in a cold weather area like this, I think we can win. Look at UConn, they’re doing a pretty good job. So I really feel that we’ll be able to do something. The proof’s in the pudding—the next couple years, we’ll find out.”

Anderson’s rebuilding efforts could get another boost during next week’s Major League Baseball draft. Just two Hofstra players have been drafted in the last 25 years, but Prokopowicz and fellow senior Ethan Paquette, who transferred to Hofstra after Vermont dropped its baseball program and broke the Hofstra record with 70 RBI in his lone season for the Dutchmen, each worked out for the Mets Sunday.

Prokopowicz, who has received interest from at least four other teams, seems certain to get a phone call from somebody during the 50-round draft. “Someone’s going to give him a chance—he deserves a chance,” Anderson said. “The kid came out of the womb and [could] hit. He’s just one of these kids that just gets up there and hits.”

If Prokopowicz goes pro, it may delay his plans to check in on a program for whom he wishes he could play one more season. “The past three years, we never had a shot [at] trying to make the playoffs,” Prokopowicz said. “This program is going to be turning around in the next couple years and I can’t wait to come back and watch them play.

“I’m gonna miss it, I really am,” Prokopowicz said. “I didn’t know how much I was going to miss it until I went out for the top of the ninth inning and said ‘This is my last time out on this field.’ It was my last time, my last at-bat and I got emotional I’m going to miss it, I really am.”

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variaban said...

So how 'bout them No Good Patriots having the highest APR scores in the DC metro area, nay, in the Colonial Athletic Association?!?

You know I had to bring it up somewhere! :)

Jerry Beach said...

Southern bias strikes again. :)