COLUMBIA — After a nine-game road trip, the Missouri baseball team is happy to be home.
A newly renovated Taylor Stadium awaits the Tigers, which seems fitting for a team that is still trying to find an identity.
Western Illinois (4-5)
at Missouri (4-5)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Taylor Stadium
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
The nine games that the Tigers have played have answered some questions. Missouri finished 4-5 on the trip, which is considerably better than the 2-7 mark they came home with after last year's season-opening road trip.
Coach Tim Jamieson said he was pleased with the way his team handled the games, but searching for the team’s identity is still a higher priority than winning.
“You always care about the record,” Jamieson said. “You always want to win. You never try to lose a baseball game. You’re always conscientious of the record. The games that matter the most are still a couple weeks away. We’re getting there, I think closer to knowing who we are than we were last week or two weeks ago.”
It's been difficult, though, because the Tigers have new faces all over the place. The starting lineup consists of first baseman Aaron Senne, shortstop Michael Liberto, catcher Ryan Ampleman and a long list of new players.
The starting rotation consists of Nick Tepesch and whoever Jamieson thinks should pitch that day.
Taylor Stadium’s new indoor facility includes batting cages and pitching mounds, which could be valuable in helping the Tigers figure out the pitching and hitting.
For now, Liberto's hitting is making it easier for the Tigers to concentrate on finding answers.
Liberto is batting .471 through the season’s first nine games after hitting .243 all of last season. He says there's a simple reason for the jump.
“It’s just a smaller bat,” Liberto said. “I swear.”
Along with a new bat, Liberto, a senior, said he is taking a new attitude.
“I just try to be a good example,” Liberto said. “Not trying to get down, just trying to pick everybody up, especially since we have such a young team.”
What makes the high average an even bigger surprise is that Liberto has batted ninth through all but one of the team’s games.
Jamieson said he hopes to keep Liberto in the ninth spot as long as his younger players can produce at the top of the order.
On the pitching side, freshman Eric Anderson has stood out. After not pitching the first weekend, he has looked fantastic. The hard-throwing right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.69 earned run average and six strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.
Despite the success, Anderson said he knows he is far from having a starting job locked up.
“It’s up to the coaching staff,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. All I can do is just go out and throw and do my best. It’s a long season. Got to take it week by week.”
Jamieson said he will not start Anderson in the team’s first home game against Western Illinois at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Taylor Stadium. Instead, the team will likely use several pitchers as they continue to see how the rotation pans out.
Taylor Stadium also now includes a larger home bullpen, a renovated visitor’s bullpen, padded outfield walls, a brick wall that goes around foul territory and new railings in front of the dugouts.
Jamieson said the renovations are nice, but he just wants his team to improve, and figuring out who they are will come with time.
“Playing better is more important,” Jamieson said. “If we play better, we’re going to win. That’s the thing I look at. Especially at home.”