As the spring approaches, so does America’s favorite pastime; baseball. The Grand Valley State University baseball team has been, like many other GVSU sports, chomping at the bit to get their season started. Coach Jamie Detillion was disappointed with how things ended last season, but knows that this team has to roll with the punches.
“We’re excited and we were off to a good start last year,” Detillion said. “It was just disappointing to have to end because we had some injury issues and a couple of things from the year before that we needed a fresh start to reset our minds. We were off to an 11-4 start and things were rolling.”
Although the season was cut short, there is some upside for the Lakers, who are returning plenty of key players. One of those key players is redshirt senior Ryan Blake-Jones. Before the season was suddenly canceled, he led the team with a .475 AVG, 1.296 OPS, 19 hits, and seven doubles. Blake-Jones is returning for his sixth year in a Laker uniform due to the eligibility granted from the cancellation last spring.
“Obviously, I wasn’t planning on playing another year,” Blake-Jones said. “But COVID-19 gave everybody an extra year, and I was going to be here working on my master’s degree still anyways, so it was sort of a blessing in disguise that I was still able to play baseball. I was expecting to be able to play this long, but it’s something I love to do, and I’m lucky to do it still.”
The long wait had more benefits than just returning depth. It has given the Lakers more time to train and improve their abilities that more, which is something Blake-Jones thinks will help in the long run.
“We’ve been working in the weight room for a long time now,” Blake-Jones said. “People were able to play summer ball, and we have been in the Kelly Sports Center working and getting at-bats inside. We’ve had more time than usual this off-season, and people have been working hard. I think everybody’s even more ready to go.”
Along with Blake-Jones, eight members on the Lakers roster are returning for another season as a senior once again and Detillion is welcoming them back with open arms after seeing what could have been a season ago.
“When you’re 11-4 to start, and things are going in a great direction with great practice habits and good work ethic, as a coach, of course, I want that back,” Detillion said. “Whether they’re seniors or freshmen, the guys that demonstrate those habits and characteristics, I’ll take them back any day of the week. We have eight guys that returned, and all of them should contribute in some fashion to our team.”
Besides Blake-Jones, the Lakers are returning more key bats to their lineup. Freshman outfielder Nathan Logan and senior infielder Anthony Cocco are both back. In his short debut, Logan had a .357 AVG, .896 OPS, and 15 hits in 13 games for the Lakers, while Cocco added a .317 AVG, .969 OPS, and 13 hits for the Lakers offense.
With a 35-man roster, depth will be a crucial factor for the Lakers this year, and Detillion knows that they have the roster to deal with anything that comes their way.
“I keep telling our guys, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Detillion said. “It’s a next-man-up mentality. Everybody has value in our program, and everybody’s responsibility goes straight up when guys get sidelined. Everybody has the opportunity to perform.”
The Lakers are gearing up to travel to N.C., where they will open their season with a double-header on March 5th against Kentucky Wesleyan College. They hope to pick up right where they left off last year.