One variable facing the UNO baseball team has been greatly improved. Another variable can only get better.
As the Mavericks continue preparations to open the season March 1 through 3 in San Antonio, they are looking forward to a season in which they are scheduled to play 26 games in the Omaha metropolitan area. Last year, their first in Division I, they were in town for just seven games.
Meanwhile, an almost unfathomable rash of injuries that struck the 2012 team seems impossible to be repeated.
“Last year the guys didn't travel well, didn't sleep well on the bus, didn't eat well enough (to stay strong),” UNO coach Bob Herold said. “Then we started losing guys (to injuries) right and left on the field.
“But I'm proud of them. They did a good job. And now this is a huge transition year for us — not for the competition as much as it is the (balanced) schedule. One at home, one on the road, one at home. We're going to be able to sleep in our own beds every other series.”
UNO already faced difficult odds before last season began, and the tone was seemingly set when leadoff hitter Tyler Lane got on base in the first inning of the first game and suffered a season-ending injury while stealing second base.
Numerous other injuries followed, including the broken thumb that cost infielder Tyler Splichal most of the season and the horrific outfield collision that knocked Cory Buckley out of the lineup for an extended time and led to an extensive hospital stay for Beau Suponchick that effectively ended his Mav career.
“We were down five starters,” Herold said. “We had at least four pitchers in our lineup, and sometimes five, the last 25 games. I had talked them into playing and hitting by telling them that they weren't always pitchers when they were growing up. But after awhile they would see their batting average dropping and tell me, 'You know why I became a pitcher, right?'”
UNO finished its challenging first season in Division I at 12-36, but still had some decent moments. There were a number of close games, and a number of others where the Mavs' lack of depth caught up to them. So did the travel schedule.
UNO, picked last in its first full season in the six-team Summit League, starts season two of its Division I era at Texas-San Antonio on March 1 before staying in town to play Stephen F. Austin and Penn State the next two days.
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“Hopefully we'll survive it,” Herold said. “As long as we don't get completely blown up, we'll be fine. We can get settled in and start building confidence.”
The Mavs have to replace solid offensive contributors in Colby McCord (.366), Brady Hohl (.297) and Mark Waldron (.272) — all who drove in 20 runs or more — but get back Splichal (.302) and Alex Mortensen (.292, 26 RBIs).
Matt Tew (1-6, 5.60 ERA) again fronts the starting pitching rotation, while Buckley (1-2, 5.62) is healthy enough to pitch again after making just three starts last year.
Herold had originally planned to have his team open the season last weekend, but couldn't line up any games for this weekend. As a result, he decided to wait until March 1.
“I know it's a bit of a late start, but we'll see how it works out,” he said. “We'll be playing a little more often once we get playing.”
Already scheduled to play a three-game series with Creighton, Herold said talks have been initiated to schedule games with Nebraska should both teams lose games to weather.
The Mavs, who played one true “home” series last year at Werner Park, play 14 games this season at Boys Town, seven at Werner Park and three at Westside High School.
The middle game of their March 29 through 31 series with Creighton will be at Werner Park, with the other two downtown at TD Ameritrade Park.
UNO's first home series is a three-game set with North Dakota, scheduled for March 8 to 10 at Westside.
Other Werner Park dates are March 22 to 24 against Northern Colorado, March 30 against Creighton, April 9 with Iowa, April 10 against Kansas State, and April 16 against Iowa.
“It gives us a little visibility, until such a time as we can get to our own field,” Herold said of playing at Werner Park, the three-year-old home of the Omaha Storm Chasers. “It's a little bit of a (positive) recruiting thing. You need a half tank of gas to get there from UNO and you have to stop and get a hamburger when you're driving out there, and it isn't really a home-field advantage for us. But it is a great park.”
Boys Town, Herold said, is also a quality venue, though it too is a bit of a drive from campus.
But at least the Mavs have some home games this year. And even most of the road games are at least in the Central time zone.
“Last year was a unique experience,” Herold said.
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