The 2017 college baseball is officially upon us. This weekend the University of Louisville will open regular season play with a three-game set at Spectrum Field - the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. To kick things off, head coach Dan McDonnell and select players met with the press for the program's annual media day at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Following weeks of intra-squad scrimmages, the team will face its first true opponent on Friday afternoon when it meets Alabama State at 3:00 p.m. McDonnell has been impressed by the development of his latest squad during the weeks of practice and believes they're ready to begin their journey that they hope ends in Omaha.
"We feel like we've learned a lot about this group," he said. "Obviously the returners, the everyday players, the guys that are stepping up and accepting bigger roles this year. The new guys, it's really tough figuring out what the new guys are going to do with such a short period of time, so we're excited and ready to start the year."
Replacing a large group of departed players is a regularity for McDonnell and his staff. This year they are tasked with replacing seven key members that were selected in the last Major League Baseball Draft.
DISCUSS: The Omaha Room
"It's the culture that we have," McDonnell said. "As coaches we are prepared to turn over a lot players. There's so many good players here and they are developing. We are very proud of that as a baseball program. We just have to be ready to get the next group ready to go, whether that's a freshman, or a guy coming out of junior college, most times its a kid already in our program who has worked really hard and he's ready to be an everyday player or pitcher."
The culture that has developed continued success despite the high turnover to the pro ranks comes from the constant competition from among the teams ranks.
"You have to learn how to compete in this program," he said. "The competition, the talent-level, player position wise and on the mound. Ultimately that's what makes them the players that they are. At the end of the day these are amateurs. We talk about being professional and we want to get them ready for pro ball, but these are young kids right out of high school and college kids, and nothing is better for them than having competition, guys pushing them position-to-position."
Ranked among the nation's top 10 in multiple national polls, including No. 8 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Cardinals begin the season with the usual high expectations. Five consecutive seasons as conference regular season champions and a pair of trips to the College World Series in the last four years have helped build an expectation among the team and fan base that anticipates a trip to Omaha every season.
"You got to believe it before you can achieve it," McDonnell said. "I felt like this year I didn't have to say it as much, which is good. It's understood. It's why the kids are here. It's what the fans expect here and I'm really proud of that. That's a neat place to be - a program where the expectations are to go to Omaha and win a national championship."
Stay logged on to Cardinal Authority throughout the week for continuing coverage of Louisville's start to the 2017 season.