"What excites me most about this group is the hunger I see," said Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin.
"Life is about never being satisfied and never feeling your job is secure. These freshmen are out here fighting for jobs. There are a couple of positions and individuals that we know are going to play. Ryne Malone is going to play whether it is at first or third. Aaron Cheesman is going to catch. Shane Robinson is going to play. Those guys behind them know if they drop their guard just a little bit we will put them out there and give them a chance. We have proven that in the past."
Competition will be a big theme for the Seminoles throughout the fall as the Tribe lost its starting second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and right fielder. Senior catcher Cheesman and center fielder Robinson are the only returning players with more than 36 starts last year. When you include DH, there are six positions where no player registered more than 26 starts last season.
"It is going to be extremely important for the new guys to learn the system in the fall," said Cheesman. "With so many starting spots open and even for the guys coming back, it is always good to get pushed for a job. I have been on both sides of that. It will be interesting to see how this team gels together. Last years group was so young so it will be interesting to see how some of those guys come back this year. "
With 16 players on the fall roster who were not on the Tribe's 2004 spring roster, learning to play the Florida State way will be a main focus through the fall. Although the Tribe has five seniors on the 2004 fall roster, Chessman knows with a team this young leadership can came from other classes as well.
"With such a young team this year, leadership doesn't have to come just from the seniors," said Cheesman. "It can come from younger guys as well. Guys like Ryne Malone, Shane Robinson, Mark Sauls and Hunter Jones can provide that leadership. When you have so many young guys anyone with just a year or two of experience can assume a leadership role on this team."
Cheesman is not only the leader as far as being a senior captain but he is the Tribe's top returning hitter and a redshirt senior. Last year the Sarasota, FL native had a career year batting .347 while starting every game for the Seminoles. He doubled or tripled his previous career highs for runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases and RBIs. All while maintaining a .982 fielding percentage behind the plate.
"I think it will be important to do my job at the plate early on," said Cheesman. "I am not putting any extra pressure on myself because nobody expects more from me than I do. I am not expecting anything to change from years passed. The guys that came back will be expected to pick up where they left off last year and there will always be two or three new guys that come in that pick up for the guys we lost."
A couple of the new guys that have made an early impression are on coach Jamey Shuoppe's pitching staff. Mike Hyde and Bryan Henry will look to break into the rotation on a staff that has just two pitchers returning who recorded more than five starts last season.
"We don't know who is going to step up among the new guys but they are all capable or they wouldn't be here," said Shouppe. "Some have certainly shown themselves early on. The two junior college guys, Mike Hyde and Bryan Henry, we look to get a little more out of them early because they have experience beyond the high school level.
"Ryan Strauss came in with a lot of accolades and he is a guy that is learning to pitch our way. We will look to him early to see what he can do. We have been pleased with a lot of the guys. D.J. Echols is another junior college guy that has thrown well in the pre-fall stuff. Nobody is counted out and nobody is guaranteed anything at this point and that is what makes it so much fun."
Two pitchers who will be counted on are Hunter Jones, who is close to returning from an injury suffered during the 2004 campaign, and Mark Sauls. The hurlers combined to start 30 games last season, the second highest combination on the FSU staff.
"We will rely on Hunter and Mark because those two guys got the bulk of the experience last year," said Shouppe. "There will be guys who will need to come in and look to Hunter and Mark and learn from them. They are the guys we can look to for leadership."
Practice begins at noon Sunday and Martin isn't going to waste any time seeing where he stands as the team will scrimmage the first day out. One of the main things he will focus on is lowering the team's strikeout total, which reached 472 in 2004. It was just the third time in the last 20 years that the Tribe struck out more than 470 times.
"We will scrimmage day one," said Martin. "We will go right out there and get after it. It will be a controlled scrimmage with a controlled pitch count as well. We have to reduce our strikeouts this year so every guy may be stepping into the batter's box with a 0-2 count Sunday."