Something about the crack of a well-struck ball off a wooden bat, the smack of a ball landing perfectly in the pocket of a glove, the smell of pine tar or freshly mown grass makes baseball uniquely cherished in the hearts of its fans
It does not have the intensity of football, the tempo of basketball, the fluidity of hockey or the raw emotion of soccer. But it has an innate simplicity, a purity and timelessness that fans treasure deeply.
Baseball returns to USC’s Dedeaux Field on Friday as the Trojans host Jacksonville University on opening night for both teams, and just the thought of that makes USC coach Frank Cruz’s eyes light up.
“[Opening day] reminds you of the pastime. It is the pastime,” Cruz said. “All the players are announced, they’re all out there for the anthem. And everybody’s excited. It’s a new start. It’s a fresh start. And it’s just a real special feeling.”
It will be a special feeling for the Trojans’ starting pitcher. Redshirt senior Andrew Triggs spurned a professional contract for the second year in a row and is back for his third consecutive year as the Trojans’ Friday night ace.
“I’m really excited to be back,” Triggs said. “I hope it’s a real special season.”
Triggs led the team in innings pitched last season with 90 2/3, amassing a 5-4 record and a 3.67 ERA. Most impressive, however, were his 72 strikeouts to just 28 walks on the season.
“We’re ecstatic to have Andrew back,” Cruz says. “Any time you can return a Friday night starter, that’s huge.”
Triggs is not the only returning player whom Cruz feels lucky to have back. Both senior catcher Kevin Roundtree and senior outfielder Alex Sherrod had a significant possibility of being drafted. But neither of them were, and now they’re back for their final season with the Trojans.
In Roundtree, USC returns a three-year starter and steady presence behind the plate who hit leadoff and finished with a .308 batting average and .404 slugging percentage last season.
Cruz said Roundtree has moved himself from a leadoff hitter to the middle-of-the-order hitter.
Easily the most pure and experienced hitter of these 2012 Trojans, Sherrod slugged .486 last season to lead the team, beating out All-American and third-round draft pick first baseman Ricky Oropesa.
As for USC’s opponent this weekend, this team is tougher than the Dolphin mascot might suggest. Jacksonville returns 20 players from a team that competed in the NCAA Regionals last season. Their first baseman, Adam Walker II, is one of the top prospects in next year’s draft.
“They’re supposedly called a ‘mid-major,’” said Cruz. “But they’re gonna be good. I don’t care what anybody says, this is a legitimate team.”
Though the Trojans lack a star draft prospect, they will try to make up for that in experience. Six of the positional starters will be upperclassmen, including five seniors.
And one of the underclassmen, sophomore shortstop James Roberts, is plenty experienced, having started every game at that position last year as a true freshman.
USC plans on starting two true freshmen this year: Dante Flores at second base and Stephen Tarpley, who was drafted in the eighth round last year but chose instead to come to USC, as a left-handed starting pitcher.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m. with senior righty Ben Mount on the hill for the Trojans. Tarpley will take the mound for the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.