Apparently, making the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 1996 was not good enough for Missouri coach Tim Jamieson last season.
This year, during the 50th anniversary season of Missouri’s only College World Series title, Jamieson and his team are working for a Big 12 Conference championship.
“I think we’re good enough to compete for the championship,” Jamieson said. “We’ll just see who has the best team when we start playing conference games.”
Improving on last year’s 36-22 record and fourth-place Big 12 finish might be enough of a challenge. Missouri is ranked ninth in conference preseason polls.
The Tigers have a long nonconference schedule before they can make a run for that title. Missouri starts the season this weekend in Phoenix at the Oakland A’s Spring Training Tournament. Missouri has an exhibition game against British Columbia on Thursday before the regular season begins Friday night against Nevada.
Senior right-hander Danny Hill will start the season opener.
Junior college transfer Erik Dessau (Forest Park Community College) will start Saturday against Portland. Junior Garrett Broshuis will face Northwestern to close the tournament Sunday.
Left fielder Lee Laskowski, who missed the regional tournament last year with a back injury, is healthy and excited to play.
“It was a big part of my life, missing last season,” Laskowski said. “It was the first time we had made Regionals since I came here … and I am really look forward to getting back and making a contribution if I can.”
Laskowski will split time between left field and designated hitter with fellow senior Ryan Rallo.
Finding someone to replace center fielder Jayce Tingler could be Jamieson’s most difficult decision this year. Tyler Williams and Josiah Holst should platoon in center to start the year, but the Tigers have a number of players capable of spending time in the outfield.
“One of the neat things about our outfielders is that we have some guys that can play more than one position,” Jamieson said. “We can involve five or six guys at a time sometimes by moving into different positions and trying different spots.”
Zane Taylor will move from third base to shortstop to replace Ian Kinsler. Junior college transfer Cosme Caballera (Sante Fe Community College) will start at third.
Seniors Jeremy Hernandez (second base) and Cody Ehlers (first base) will fill in the right side of the infield again. Ehlers tied with Rallo for the team lead with nine home runs last year.
Catcher Brad Flanders earned All-Big 12 second-team honors last season. He will catch a combination of newcomers and some old friends in the Missouri’s well-rounded pitching staff.
“I love throwing to Brad,” right-hander Mark Alexander said. “In Kansas City, we played ball together, and coming here I knew he would be our everyday catcher and it’s been a blessing to be able to throw to him all the time. Knowing he’s back there gives our pitchers tremendous confidence.”
Hill, who split time between the rotation and the bullpen last season, should start more this year. Jamieson hopes freshman Max Scherzer can become his closer by the beginning of conference play.
Jamieson also was impressed with the rest of his new players.
“Nathan Culp, a left-handed freshman pitcher, could vie for a spot in the conference rotation before the season’s over with, and Gary Arndt, a freshman shortstop, is a guy who has showed us he can play good defense and who we know can use at least on the defensive side,” Jamieson said.
Eight seniors will lead this year’s team, a sharp contrast from last season, when Tingler was the only senior.
“There’s a couple of senior pitchers who are helping out the younger guys and the new guys in the program,” Hill said. “There are a lot of older guys who can help the younger guys out with their swings and defensively. Hopefully they’ll help them on and off the field.”
The large number of seniors means Jamieson needed to work extra hard to find recruits for the 2005 season. Rock Bridge senior Scott Dunwoody was one of 11 players who signed letters of intent to play with the Tigers.
“Scott is a guy who we’ve had our eye on for a couple of years,” Jamieson said. “He’s a good defensive catcher. When we look at catchers, the main thing we look at is, ‘Can he catch the baseball and do a good job at our level?’ We think Scott can.”
With the season starting, the Tigers are eager to get out of the snow and face competition in Arizona.
“With the weather obviously you can’t get outside too much but we’re doing a lot in [the Dan Devine Pavilion] to get prepared,” outfielder Kyle Johnson said. “We were pretty fortunate to get out on Faurot Field and practice a few times out there. It’s good to have some outside practices, but the last couple weeks we’ve been kind of stuck inside.”
Johnson would like to move into a game situation. Any game.
“(I’m excited) just to see another team,” he said. “We’ve seen all of our pitchers so many times, and it just gets kind of repetitious. It’s pretty hard to get intense when you practice, but we’re ready to go.”
The Tigers open their home season Feb. 27 with a three-game series against Youngstown State.