With the 2019 baseball season in its early stages at JMU, fans have already begun to spot differences from this year’s team compared to last year’s. Like they do every year, the Dukes have added a new class of freshmen to their roster and many were hard to ignore during the first few weeks. With their high school careers now over, many of the new faces of JMU baseball are excited for their chance to leave everything on the field.
Even though they’ve begun the next chapter in their sports careers, that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten the lessons in baseball and life that they’ve learned during their time at their respective schools. Freshman second baseman Kyle Novak has batted .300 over six games so far this year, with two doubles and five RBIs. Prior to his first at bat, Novak gave a lot of credit to his high school head coach, Mark “Pudge” Gjormand, for his development in the sport and being with JMU baseball for his freshman year of college.
“I think he teaches everything the right way,” Novak said. “I just want to carry that over to college and always give it 100 percent.”
For a Dukes team that fell one game short of making it to the CAA playoffs last season, new talents on the roster are always welcomed. Many of the new players coming onto the team can field more than one position, and can contribute to the roster wherever needed. Additionally, with diverse upbringings and different prior baseball experiences, everyone has something unique to bring to the Dukes.
Freshman third baseman Trevon Dabney was on fire to begin his collegiate career against Norfolk State, winning CAA Player of the Week after an impressive opening weekend. He currently holds a .364 batting average through seven games, the highest on the team.
“I went to Berks Catholic in Reading, Pennsylvania,” Dabney said. “The way I play defense and offense, I just want to bring that positive energy to the team.”
Luckily, the Dukes have plenty of experience to help them in the early stages of their rookie seasons. The upperclassmen of JMU have been pivotal to the new players learning the ropes at the Division I collegiate level helping further develop their talents going into the new season.
Freshman shortstop/pitcher Nick Zona — who’s tied for first on the team in total hits and second on the team in batting average — was quick to credit his veteran teammates in helping him and the other freshman transition to JMU.
“It’s pretty cool being around them,” Zona said. “They’re teaching us the ways of how to be in a D-I program like this and getting ready for the season.”
To head coach Marlin Ikenberry, age or experience isn’t anything significant — it’s just a number. Regardless of a player’s tenure, if that player is putting in the effort and demonstrating superior play, then he’ll be starting. No player, new or old, won’t make mistakes every now and then. Dabney, Novak and Zona have combined for seven errors on the season so far as they’ve gotten acclimated to their defensive positions at the collegiate level.The coach hasn’t been deterred by anyone’s blunders so far, but has been thoroughly impressed with the new freshmen on his team.
“When they make mistakes, they don’t wear them on their sleeves,” Ikenberry said. “They’re special players.”
Mistakes don’t stick in the minds of JMU baseball’s freshmen for long. For this year’s class of new athletes, the chance to make a difference for their new school with their new teammates is what’s driving them. The drive they bring to the team for the new season is infectious and is drowning out any nerves they may have originally had.
“This is the most excited I’ve been to play baseball in a long time,” Novak said. “Everyone wants to get better, it’s a great atmosphere and it makes me want to come out and get better every single day.”
Contact Jordan Simal at email@example.com. For more baseball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.