With the playing surface at Lee-Hines Field receiving a much-needed makeover, the Southern University baseball team opened practice Friday with position players hitting balls in the batting cages and pitchers testing their arms with bullpen work.
This will be the scene for coach Roger Cador’s team the next two weeks.
“We’re going to be a little set back for a couple weeks where we won’t have use of the field,” Cador said. “But that’s OK. The money was available, so we’re taking a chance and making (the improvements) happen.”
Cador said when the $150,000 project is complete, Southern will have a new drainage system and a whole new infield.
The timing of the work will leave the Jaguars little opportunity to work on fielding grounders or turning double plays, and could leave their defense a bit shaky early in the year.
The ping of aluminum bats resonated from the batting cages as SU practiced Friday.
“I’ve told the kids, I do not want them to moan and groan and gripe about not having the field available,” Cador said. “We’re going to do what we can with what we have.”
Cador said he has been assured the field will be ready in time for Southern’s season-opening series Feb. 15-17 against Stillman (Ala.) College.
A bigger concern for Cador is how his Jaguars will come together.
After finishing the regular season last year as the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s hottest outfit, Southern bowed out of the league tournament with a 2-1 loss to Mississippi Valley State and missed the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
Leadoff man Taylor Roy, outfielder Wilmy Marrero, catcher Clint Ourso and infielders Cameron McGriff and DeMario Ellis bid farewell after their senior seasons and leave significant holes in the everyday lineup.
Brian Foster is gone from the pitching staff, but Cador said he likes the rotation of arms returning (Danny Garcia, Jose De Leon, Josh Powell and Jesse “Doc” Holiday, to name a few) and said pitching could be the team’s strength.
There is much less experience in the field. But Cador said he expects a big year from senior shortstop Jeremy Lopez, whose hustle and grit make him a natural leader.
“He’s a guy we can depend on for leadership, because he wants to win in the worst way,” Cador said of Lopez. “That guy loves to win. He will sacrifice his body to win. His uniform is going to be dirty.”
Southern follows the series against Stillman with a Feb. 20 trip to Nicholls State, then returns to Houston for the annual Urban Invitational at Minute Maid Park from Feb. 22-24.
The conference season begins March 16 when Southern heads to Grambling for a three-game series.