It doesn’t take long when looking at Temple’s statistics to notice a trend.
Four of the Top 6 batting averages belong to seniors, and senior pitcher Matt Hockenberry is the only starter with multiple starts with a sub-4 ERA.
Coach Ryan Wheeler said he has an idea as to what is bothering his underclassmen. With the athletic cuts in the back of their minds, the younger players on Temple’s team have been pressing.
“Right now I’ve got 26 guys that, each one of their minds is in a different place,” Wheeler said. “I’m trying to keep them together as best as I can.”
Keeping them together has been a challenge for Wheeler. After winning its first game 15-8, Temple (3-8) lost seven straight games by a combined score of 59-16.
Many underclassmen on the team will be looking for a new home to continue their baseball careers when the season is over. They’ll follow the path of their six former teammates who transferred after the Board of Trustees approved a decision to eliminate the baseball team in December. Wheeler said he believes that dealing with outside issues has caused a lack of focus among a handful of players.
“No matter how much I tell them that they need to put that stuff out of their mind and just focus on the game in hand that day, when they don’t have success on the field, they feel like they’re going to lose opportunities to go play somewhere else,” Wheeler said.
One of the underclassmen who has struggled to open the season is sophomore outfielder Frank D’Agostino. Through Saturday’s game, D’Agostino’s batting average is at .161, the lowest on the team for anyone with more than 20 at-bats.
D’Agostino said he has heard from other schools, but playing in this early part of the season has been difficult for the Monroe Township, N.J., native.
“Coming out and playing every day, you don’t know when your next head coach is watching,” D’Agostino said. “You kind of try to do a little more when you really shouldn’t be doing stuff like that.”
The process has been the exact opposite for the seniors on the roster. With no future college search to worry about, players like Robert Amaro, Daniel Dragos and Derek Peterson have all been among the team leaders on the stats sheet. Amaro, who came to Temple this year after transferring from Virginia, has driven in a team-high 11 runs through Saturday.
Though the seniors may feel less distracted than their younger peers, it doesn’t stop them from feeling for their teammates.
“I know it’s probably hard for them,” Amaro said of the younger guys. “They’re showcasing their abilities, hoping to get something from another coach from some other school. That’s probably always in the back of their mind.”
“It’s probably not even that, they’re just first-time players, first year playing college ball,” Amaro added. “So they’re nervous, and on top of it they have to find a place to play next year.”
The difference in preparation and mental focus is something Wheeler said he has taken notice to between his upper and underclassmen.
“For [the seniors], this was it, regardless of what happened,” Wheeler said. “The seniors seem to be more mentally locked in and not worried or dealing with the stuff that’s off the field. It’s the younger kids that maybe aren’t mature enough yet to handle this adversity. It’s a big wakeup call for them, they have to grow up and we just have to continue to keep battling and fighting through it.”
Wheeler said he has been trying to get the message across to his younger players that they need to find a way to focus on getting better and putting all the distractions off the field for the time being.
Easier said than done – but D’Agostino said they’re trying.
“You just try not to think about it, honestly that’s the only thing you can probably do,” D’Agostino said. “It’s hard when you see other coaches around the field. You just really got to try not to think about it and just focus on what you got to do at the bat and in the field.”
Jeff Neiburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.