The Gators with their mild winter climate would seem to have a decided advantage over the Bearcats this early in the season, but Coach Cleary isn‘t so sure. "In this particular year, it hasn't been too bad with our mild January and our Field Turf. We've been able to get out more than we regularly would but still not as much as they're used to. The weather for all the teams in this part of the country can be a disadvantage, but there's nothing we can do about it so I don't think that will be too big a disadvantage. The biggest thing is how talented they are."
The Bearcats return a number of veterans in the infield, but Coach Cleary also will start some new faces. "Behind the plate we're going to start Nick Maragas. Nick is a junior college transfer. I think Nick brings a defensive presence that we lacked at times last year, and he swings the bat pretty well too. We return (Logan ) Parker at first base and (Mark) Muscenti at second base, and (Jon) DeLuca at third base. All three, in my opinion, are well above average defenders so we have good players there. We've got two freshmen that will cover short for us. I think we'll start with Adam Yeager there. He's got a chance to be a really good player. He's very athletic, runs well, and covers ground. We have another guy, Josh Harrison (Princeton High School), that can also play short, second, third or even the outfield. He's a very versatile player and has a chance to be a very good player too. I feel real good about our infield."
The Bearcat injury curse that has hurt the basketball squad has continued onto the baseball diamond, particularly at the catching position. Neall French, who saw some action last year behind the plate, had surgery Wednesday morning and will likely miss the season. The other back-up catcher on the squad, Dustin Alvey , will also miss the season due to an arm injury. Coach Cleary has every right to be concerned about catcher. "Right now Josh Harrison is our back-up catcher, and he's not a catcher. We've gone from a really good catching situation to one that is pretty fragile."
Like the infield, the outfield also returns a couple of veterans in LaFringe Hayes (CF) and Brian Szarmach (LF), but right field seems up for grabs. " I think right now we'll look at Harrison out there, but right field is going to be a place where Jack Nelson could see some time, Kyle Rapp could play out there, and we've got several other guys that could play there. As I sit here right now, I think rightfield will probably see the most players, but Josh Harrison's bat has to be in our lineup as does Adam Yeager's."
Good starting pitching is always at a premium, and Coach Cleary hopes he's found some. "We're going to start Steve Blevins (freshman) Friday, Kyle Rapp will start Saturday, and Glen Simon will start Sunday." Simon was highly recruited out of high school and had a good freshman season at Florida State before sustaining an arm injury and eventually transferring to UC this year. Coach Cleary was also very upbeat about the addition of junior college pitcher/outfielder Kyle Rapp (Milford High School). "Rapp has done a phenomenal job on the mound and has a chance to be very successful as a pitcher as he gets more comfortable. He‘s also a very athletic kid and a good hitter."
The relievers have some large shoes to fill with the loss of Josh Kay, but Coach Cleary believes he has a number of good candidates. "A.J. Upton has come a long way and has shown dramatic improvement. I think Jack Nelson can help too. He's never pitched as much as we wanted him to, and we've moved Sean Munninghoff to the bullpen. He started for us last year. Among those three guys we're hopeful one of them will emerge and be able to handle the ninth inning."
When asked about his offensive philosophy, Coach Cleary stressed versatility. "I think we have some balance this year, but losing French hurts us in the power department. I think he could have given us 12-15 home runs, but we still have some guys in the middle of our line-up. Maragas, Szarmach, Parker and DeLuca are all guys that can bang the ball around, but we also have some athleticism with Hayes, Yeager, and Harrison."
Coach Cleary is excited about the opener and wants the team to put on a good show for Bearcat fans who watch the webcast. "I'm hopeful we show well, and everyone that watches has something good to look at."