Talented freshman outfielders earning their playing time for MU baseball

Friday, February 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
MU freshmen outfielders Dane Opel and Blake Brown look on during an indoor baseball practice Wednesday at Devine Pavilion.

COLUMBIA — When asked if he was nervous going into his first college game for the Missouri baseball team, freshman outfielder Blake Brown paused cautiously before settling on, “not really.”

Coach Tim Jamieson laughed when he heard this response.

“Blake was about as nervous as …” Jamieson said, not finishing the statement, but just shaking his head.

It’s not surprising that Brown was nervous. Having a chance to start as a freshman is a rare opportunity for Brown to have on a team like Missouri (2-1), which has made seven straight regional tournaments. But with very few returning players, Brown is not the only freshman outfielder who has this chance.

Dane Opel, Brannon Champagne and Kale Gaden all fit the same description: Freshmen outfielders who have their eyes on a lot of playing time. And they all will likely see a lot with no starting job locked up in the outfield.

The Collegiate Cactus Classic last weekend in Tucson, Ariz., showed a great example of this with each freshman outfielder getting at least one start even while competing with older outfielders sophomore Russell LaFleur and junior Jonah Schmidt for playing time as well.

Brown and Opel had arguably the best weekends for the Tigers, who went 2-1 in the tournament. Brown started two games and is hitting .500 with two RBIs. Opel started two games and is hitting .625 with one RBI, including a four-hit performance in his first collegiate start.

Brown said the chance to start was a top reason he chose to play for the Tigers.

“The coaches made that clear that there would be a lot of opportunities to get to play,” Brown said. “If we produce, the freshmen would get their chances definitely, could end up with starting roles and things like that.”

Brown, who is one of the fastest players on the team, has a chance to earn the team’s starting center fielder job by the time the year is over.

Brown said he will do whatever he can for the team, but he really wants to start.

“We’re great friends,” Brown said about all of the freshmen outfielders. “Dane and I played each other once in high school. We have a healthy competition, but we’re really good friends.”

Opel has good speed, but he is not as fast as Brown, who Opel called a “rocket.” In high school, Opel proved to be a great contact hitter with decent power.

Brown and Opel both said they are not concentrating on hitting the long ball.

“I would like to keep a high average,” Opel said. “That’s the number one goal: to keep a really high batting average. In high school, I was thinking about the fence a lot, and my average kind of dropped a little bit. I’m just trying to think about hitting a lot more line drives than home runs.”

Senior Aaron Senne, the club’s only returning starting outfielder, has moved primarily to first base to make room for playing time for the talented group.

“It gives us a lot of depth,” Senne said. “The fact that we have so many young outfielders that can go out there and get it done. They got it done this weekend.”

No starting jobs are certain for Opel, Brown or anybody else in the outfield. Jamieson said this is a great problem to have.

“We’re real happy,” Jamieson said about the team's depth. “I don’t think we’ll really know for a while. I think it’s going to take a while. I hope we don’t. I hope we’re forced to play different people.”
The Tigers will head to Auburn, Ala., this weekend for the Auburn Invitational. The Tigers will start play against Florida Atlantic at 2 p.m. Friday.

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