CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
Less than one year from now, Vacarro Field will be filled with the sounds of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s baseball team as it returns from a nine-year hiatus.
For now, however, head coach Rick Carver has organized a group of 18 students to train and prepare to be the foundation for next year’s team, and he likes what he is seeing.
“There’s a lot more talent here already than I thought there would be,” Carver said. “There’s a lot of hard work and determination, and it’s going to pay off.”
Carver, who came to Franciscan in September 2018 after a prolific 29-year, 448-win career at Bethany College, said he was excited when the opportunity was presented to be part of bringing baseball back to Franciscan.
“Baseball is America’s pastime,” he said. “It is a popular, growing sport and it’s a great fit for the university.”
Upon coming on in September, Carver hadn’t expected to be playing any games or practices until the fall 2019 semester, but the response he received from students interested in playing meant starting even sooner.
He met with several students at the end of the fall 2018 semester and began doing fielding and hitting workouts with the interested students in January. Currently 18 students varying from freshmen to juniors are on the team.
“We’ve got athletes from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Minnesota and a whole bunch of other places all over the country,” Carver said. “But even though we’ve only been working out for a couple months, it’s like they’ve all been playing together for years. I didn’t expect to find that type of cohesiveness so quickly.”
The players were also quick to agree that they have come together quite quickly. Tony Tatum, a sophomore marketing major, hadn’t played baseball in over 10 years but jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself here.
“Playing baseball again has been a breath of fresh air,” he said. “(It’s) a part of me that was missing.
“We definitely challenge each other, make things competitive and make sure to keep things light and fun. With more practice I think we can work together as a team that should be feared on the field.”
Junior psychology major Daniel Heffernan concurred, saying, “I know that myself and all the other guys on the team are itching to play a real game. The fact that we already have 18 guys lined up to play is a testament to the hunger and readiness we all have to play and to dominate at this amazing game.”
Carver said he hopes to share his passion and experience of baseball with the players so that they can become the best players they can be.
“I’m very passionate (about baseball),” he said. “When the good Lord passed out enthusiasm, I got four times as much. I just love being on a baseball field and working with the guys, helping them get better.”
Mike Hardy, a freshman computer science major, said, “Carver knows a lot about the game and all the advice he’s given me has … made me a better player. It’s only been a couple weeks, I can’t imagine what he can do with an entire season.”
As part of his coaching philosophy, Carver believes that baseball is a microcosm of life and wants the lessons his players learn on the field to translate to their everyday lives, including post-graduation.
“I counsel my players, ‘Do you quit when you have two strikes, or do you stay in there?’” he said. “It’s all about your approach. I want my players to succeed on and off the field, and I hope they can take something from their participation in baseball when they leave.”
Freshman accounting major Luke Mahon said, “Coach is very passionate about what he does … Even more important, he’s emphasized to the other players and I that he wants us to keep our priorities straight and to not let baseball impede on things such as our spiritual life and academics.”
As Carver and the team continue to prepare for next year, Carver has been hard at work recruiting graduating high school seniors. As of last week, 10 players had committed and he expected at least five more to do the same. Ideally, he would like 35 players — enough to field a junior varsity team, as well.
“I’m hoping for at least 10 to 12 more,” he said. “Maybe that’s a little ambitious, but that’s my goal.”
The team will officially become an NCAA squad in September and will play its first home game on March 16, 2020 against Waynesburg University.
“We all can’t wait for the season to start,” Carver said. “We’re going to add to the successes of the other sports teams, and it’s going to be an atmosphere the entire university community will want to come watch.”