By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Neither rain, nor snow, nor heavy class loads can keep the baseball players at Bluefield College from preparing for the upcoming season.
The Rams, under veteran coach Mike White, will head south on Feb. 1 to open the 2013 baseball season against Southern Wesleyan College. The opener will be played in Central, S.C.
“This is our second week into it and we’ve been out more in this amount of time than we’ve been out in the prior seven years,” White noted. “We’ve had to do some work outside in the parking lot, but we’ve actually had a couple of days where we’ve been on the field and we’re exciting about getting outside and playing.”
Excitement extends not just to the beginning of a new season, but for Bluefield College and all its athletic programs, a new home in the Mid-South Conference with new opponents.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” White said. “I used to play in that league when I was at school at UVa-Wise. I know where we’re going.”
While it’s a new conference home with new opponents, White does not discount the level of competition in BC’s old league, the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
“The level of competition, I think top to bottom, the Mid-South is stronger, but obviously when you come out of a conference like the AAC, with what Billy (Berry) and Steven (Baker) and those guys did down at (Tennessee) Wesleyan winning the national championship, it’s going to be hard to say that the Mid-South is any tougher,” White said.
Berry was coach at Bluefield College prior to White and Baker played for and was an assistant coach with White at BC. Berry is currently the head coach and Baker the assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan.
“I think the upper echelon of the AAC is as good, if not a little better than the upper echelon of the Mid-South, but I think top to bottom you’re going to have more battles on a daily basis in the Mid-South.”
Similar to another school in the region that recently switched conferences and has to make much longer trips, WVU, Bluefield College faces similar challenges.
“We’ve got some bus trips in there. We go to Cumberland, Tenn. We’ve got to go to St. Catharine (Louisville, Ky.). I think those are our two longest trips,” White said. We go to Rio Grande (Ohio) to open up and that’s not much different, really, when you’re looking at going to Rinehart (Ga.), or doing down to Dayton (Tenn.) to Bryan, or even to (Tennessee) Wesleyan, which is about five hours, it’s similar.
“The travel is going to affect us a little bit in some missed class time. We’ve got to be creative in how we travel and some things like that, but it’s going to be a challenge.”
A major change between the Rams’ old home and new home is how the two leagues play conference series.
“The biggest difference is the way the three-game sets stack up in the league,” White said. “In the AAC it was a nine and two sevens. In the Mid-South it’s a nine, a nine and a seven. There’s going to be some added difficulty there having to find those innings to survive that we didn’t have to do in the AAC.”
Also different are the days on which the games are played. In the AAC a three-game series was played on Saturday and Sunday, while in the Mid-South play is on Friday and Saturday.
Turning to the product on the field White is optimistic.
“I think we’re going to be strong on the mound and offensively,” White commented. “We had a great recruiting class and Coach (Ryan) Lambert did an excellent job with the guys that we brought in and we have some similarities to our ‘09 club. Offensively we’re similar to that club. It’s one thing I’m excited about.”
The 2009 Bluefield Rams won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series and in addition to playing in the even and finishing as runner-up in 2010, the Rams returned to the Ohio-based event last spring, something White said was vital for the development of the program.
“The competition up there is just outstanding. It lets our guys see that we can compete at that level and I think that’s important to us,” White said. “You’ve got to get there and feel like you belong there and they got a chance to see that last year. I think you’ve got to get there and get a feel for it to understand what it’s like.”
Along with the winning tradition White has helped establish at Bluefield College, there have been players who have advanced to the next level.
Brandon Holloway, who pitched a few summers back for the Bluefield Orioles is no longer in the game, but pursing a career in golf and attempting to get his tour card on the Nationwide Golf Tour.
“We’ve got about four other guys playing independent ball,” White noted. “Travis Weaver, our shortstop a couple of years ago, left for Florida on Tuesday. He’s with Windy City in the Frontier League and he’s getting some looks. He came out in Baseball America as one of the top 10 independent players.
“(Joe) Gatewood that played for us last year is in Clearwater now, going through the independent workout and I feel pretty confident he’s going to get a chance to play.
“We’ve got possibly three guys on this club, we’re getting a lot of interest in some of these guys. That’s a good thing. As long as the scouts are calling, we feel pretty good that we’re on the right kind of kid in the system and it’s a matter of can we put it together.”
Entering his eighth season at BC, White has a record of 212-157 with three appearances in the NCCAA World Series. He feels the program is headed in the right direction.
“If you look at it from where it was when we got it, it wasn’t in very good shape when I got here, to where it is now, I’m very pleased with it,” White said. “A lot of that has to come with everything from the work that George McGonagle does with us here at the stadium, to Dr. (David) Olive and Coach (Peter) Dryer, who try to take care of us and make sure that we have the resources that we need.”
“Obviously we’d like to see more success in it, and that’s what we’re going to try to do, but I think if you look at it year-in, year-out, it’s pretty stable.”
— Contact Bob Redd