Rutgers Baseball Takes Head Start Into 2017 Season, Opens Friday Night at Miami

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Between an upperclassmen-laden lineup and the implementation of an indoor facility at the Fred Hill Training Complex, Rutgers baseball is as ready as it has ever been under coach Joe Litterio as the 2017 season opens tonight at No. 17 Miami.

The frustration of batting practice and drills inside the RAC before opening day is history at Rutgers.

When the Fred Hill Training Complex, also called “the castle,” opened its doors in January, fourth-year coach Joe Litterio found his Rutgers baseball team on a new level compared prior to past opening series.

Like many seasons, the Scarlet Knights open 2017 tonight at No. 17 Miami. Unlike many seasons, a winter indoors has Rutgers on a new level of preparation.

“The biggest difference … is the live at bats,” Litterio said. “We can get so much more done just with the thinking of the live at bats, but you don’t get those guys that are stealing bases, you don’t get guys, pitchers having to worry about holding runners on. That’s what you usually do live in the cages.

“Two weeks before we leave for Miami, usually we’re in the cages and we go batter, hitter, L-screen, but there’s nothing else involved except for seeing live pitches in a small-fined area. This gives us the bunts, the guys jumping off the mound fielding their positions. So, it gives you more in terms of live that now we’re prepared going out to Miami.”

Tom Marcinczyk, a four-year starter in right field and a local Middlesex (N.J.) product, is one of 14 upperclassmen to return for Rutgers.

The senior spoke about the impact of the Fred Hill Training Complex after three years of batting practice and fielding drills emulated inside the constricted confines of the RAC.

“We haven’t really had anything to do (in the offseason before the Fred Hill Training Complex),” Marcinczyk said. “We were in the RAC practicing, playing live, getting a few at bats — maybe 10 before the season. I’m already at 45 at bats or 50 because we’re allowed to drop the screens down. We played live games right here on the field. It’s amazing, it’s incredible.

“Just think, we’re in a batting cage. These past few years, we’re stuck and crammed in this little cage. Now we got this whole field here. We’re able to see where we’re hitting the ball, how we’re going to make these plays — these tough plays — and when we get out there, we’re well prepared to just go at it.”

For as many veterans as Rutgers boasts, underclassmen such as sophomore Jawuan Harris expect to add a spark.

Harris, who broke out with 37 steals and a 20-game on-base streak to complement his 45 hits as a freshman, returns to the diamond for Rutgers after he led the football team in receiving.

A South Florida native by way of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, Harris is used to baseball practice of a baseball field in the winter.

“It’s the same thing knowing every day knowing you’re going to get swings in, no matter what the weather is you’re going to get either live at bats, swings, a little defensive work,” Harris said. “So, same thing (as) playing back in Florida.”

While a trip to the ranked Hurricanes still expects to give Rutgers a difficult in the welcome back to baseball, Litterio said his experienced squad is up for the challenge.

“This is finally the first time for me that we’ve had that older crew, someone that’s been through the program, guys that have been through my program and what I expect of them and how I expect them to go about their business,” Litterio said. “So, they’re experienced. I think it helps with the younger guys. So, when they get into the locker room, they know what to expect from these guys, and they’re doing a great job of being leaders.

“In terms of game situation, this is usually when the game starts to slow down for those guys. For those young kids that are still going to be on the field for us, it’s going to be going real quick in Miami. These guys know what to expect, so I think it slows down a little bit. They’re not going to be so jittery at first.”  

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