Back around Halloween, following an in-costume scrimmage, the baseball team was surprised when the head coach announced a no-shaving-until-further-notice policy.
Head coach Gregg Ritchie had a fairly strict clean-shave rule during his first two seasons with the Colonials. But after slow starts plagued the team both years, he decided to loosen things up.
The “fear the beard” tactic has certainly changed the team’s look. At a practice Saturday morning, one week before the season, the team that was one of the youngest in the nation last year looked like a bunch of grizzled veterans ready to grind out the winter’s cold.
The players scrimmaged each other on the newly dubbed Tucker Field at Barcroft Park, relishing a day when the temperature climbed above freezing. Players peppered the ball around “The Tuck” to fielders who answered with sharp throws across the diamond that popped into the cold leather mitts, the signature sound of April in mid-February.
Ritchie watched closely: A well-executed defensive stop of a safety squeeze cued him to tell the Colonials to run the play again before they finished jogging back into the dugout. During another play, he quietly said “mound” as one of his players went on a collision course with the pitcher’s bump to catch a pop-fly. The player caught the ball, but not without eating dirt after belly-flopping into the mound to the excitement of his teammates.
At the plate, Ritchie’s usual goal is to have his players take a relaxed approach to hitting.
“Here, hit with this,” Ritchie said to one player, tossing him a blue bat.
“That’s what I’ve been hitting with,” the player said.
“OK, then hit with this,” Ritchie said, tossing him a red bat instead.
“I was just starting to get hits with the blue one,” the player said. But Richie got the final word.
“Show me you can hit with anything,” he said.
Later on, a freshman called out, “Here we go. Hop, skip and a jump here,” from the dugout. Ritchie mouthed the expression quizzically. When that player was warming up on deck to bat an inning later, Ritchie asked him what it meant, saying he’d never heard the phrase.
Ritchie said it sounded like what happened to the two challenging fly balls that popped out of his young charge’s glove earlier in the scrimmage. Ritchie shook his head, grinning, as the player walked to the plate.
The team was having fun. The day before the scrimmage, the Colonials played laser tag. Freshman Robbie Metz and sophomore Eli Kashi won the competition. They call junior pitcher Luke Olson’s beard the best among the players – the “beard of Jesus.” They’re relaxed, but they talk about big expectations in a season finally about winning instead of rebuilding.
Omaha – that’s the goal, the College World Series. It’s a lofty one for a team that didn’t qualify for its conference championship last year, but the team is buying in. The Colonials will fly out to California during spring break to play some likely Omaha-bound competition, including Long Beach State.
They say they won’t be nervous, though.
“[Opponents] are going to fear coach Ritchie’s beard,” redshirt-senior Craig LeJeune said. “That thing is pretty scary. I’m still intimidated by that.”