With the temperature registering in the high 30's and a chilly north wind blowing, the Jacksonville Fightin' Indian baseball team braved the unseasonably cold conditions outside to go through a pre-season practice at Summer Norman Field Wednesday afternoon.
“We can deal with the cold, it's the wet stuff that causes us problems,” Jacksonville head baseball coach Mike Eckles, said optimistically.
Eckles is in his 24th season as a coach, having served as a head baseball coach for 14 of those seasons.
His coaching experience should come in handy as he continues to overhaul the Indian baseball program, who struggled for several seasons prior to his arrival last year.
“I'm excited about this season,” Eckles said. “The off-season work ethic our kids have brought has got stronger since last year and their mental focus is better, too.”
Eckles said that his players are having to earn their stripes during the preseason, regardless if they were a starter last year or not.
“We're making the kids compete,” Eckles said. “It doesn't matter what they did last year, those that perform well for us this year will be the ones that are on the field. I've found this system to promote kids practicing hard and doing whatever they need to do to work their way into the starting line-up.”
Eckles said that he expects to use as many as six pitchers, with sophomores Cash Cleaver and Mason Smith expected to see a lot of duty as starters and senior Brayden Rawlinson getting the nod coming out of the bullpen.
“There's no question that our pitching staff will be young,” Eckles said. “But in the next 2-3 years I think will be right there with the rest of the teams in our league.”
Mike Sexton, one of five seniors on the Tribe's roster, is expected to split time behind the plate with Smith.