Baseball season is upon Eugene again. The team that came so close to heading to Omaha last season will have another shot. With Jimmie Sherfy, J.J. Altobelli, and Jake Reed, there are many reasons to be excited about the season. Here are five:
At times last season, the Ducks seemed to be destined for a loss. The air would be sucked from PK Park as fans hung their heads in silence. Then suddenly, flashing lights appeared on the scoreboard and music blared through the speakers: Techno Chicken. Everyone would perk up. Fans, players, coach George Horton, everyone. And, somewhat comically, more often than not, it worked. This season should have plenty of opportune moments for that dancing chicken.
“J.J.’s not going to be a guy who puts up huge numbers,” Horton said of the fourth-year player, “but he moves runners, he executes. The real good news is that J.J. is going to be our shortstop, and what a spectacular shortstop he is.”
Altobelli is a perfect candidate to have that perfect senior season. He has played against the top teams, he has been in pressure situations, and he knows how to react to them. He also has fuel. Last season, he wasn’t close enough to make a play on that blooper down the left field line that ended the Ducks’ season, but he was close enough to be affected by it. This year, Altobelli will serve as the clubhouse veteran, helping bring up the freshmen and make some big plays while he’s at it.
Oregon has huge expectations heading into the year. They came one shallow pop fly away from going to Omaha last season, and the Ducks’ younger players have only become more mature. However, expectations on this team can work against them. In 2011, they had pretty high expectations as well, and they never even sniffed achieving them.
This season will be tough; they have a brutal schedule. Fortunately for fans, the Ducks should show their true colors early on with tough series against Vanderbilt, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona coming early in the schedule.
Since the entire year is chock-full of top-tier opposition, the Ducks will also have plenty of opportunity to bounce back from a tough loss with a big win.
The starting pitchers
The Ducks have incredible pitching this season. Their starters, Cole Irvin, Jeff Gold, Jake Reed and Tommy Thorpe, who may be moved into the bullpen at some point during the year, should be able to go toe-to-toe with just about any lineup in the country.
Irvin, the lone freshman in the group, impressed Horton so much in January that he earned a spot in the starting rotation.
“Maturity, commitment, he’s well ahead of the learning curve,” Horton said of Irvin. “He learned the system faster than all of the other freshmen. He looks like a junior out there pitching. He’s real comfortable, has great presence, has plus command, makes his three pitches effectively. He had great credentials being a Team USA guy coming in, and he hasn’t disappointed us one bit.”
The Wild Thing
Oregon has something that most teams don’t: an elite closer. And he isn’t just elite or an All-American. He is those things, but he is also a guy that can hit 94 mph on the gun.
Much like Techno Chicken, the Wild Thing, also known as Jimmie Sherfy, is something to be feared by the opponent. “Wild Thing,” the old Troggs song, fills the park as he takes the mound. His long hair and aggressive pitching style are intimidating, but it isn’t just his appearance or entrance song that make him feared. He has the stuff to back it up.
Last year he led the conference with 19 saves. He struck out 93 batters in 61 innings, and, again — 94 mph.
“Other teams are like, ‘Okay, some guy who’s 5’10″, 160 pounds, whatever.’ But then he’s 92-95 (mph) with a slider you can’t touch,” fellow pitcher Christian Jones said.