Whitman baseball steps up to the plate after summer

Bailey Arango

While the Whitman baseball team’s 39-game 2010 season may have been grueling, seniors Jay Richards and Erik Korsmo were far from done playing ball when the Missionaries recorded their final out in May. Both Richards and Korsmo spent their summers playing in collegiate baseball leagues, each playing crucial roles on teams made up of the region’s finest collegiate ballplayers.

Korsmo, who played for the Oahu Paddlers, one of six teams in the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League, finished the summer with a .316 batting average and 16 runs batted in. The Paddlers finished their season with an all-league best record of 24-15 before falling to the Kauai Menehunes in the semifinals. Korsmo, who split time as catcher with a teammate while also occasionally taking swings as the Paddlers’ designated hitter, played alongside teammates from nationwide schools including the University of Oregon and Binghamton University (New York).

Richards, who played for the Nisqually Silvers of the Puget Sound Collegiate League, had a similarly successful summer on the mainland–batting .340, completing an error-free campaign in center field and capping off what Richards describes as an ideal summer of baseball.

“It was really nice, a lot of fun. Previous summers I had played for teams that had to do a lot of traveling and didn’t even have a home field, but this league has six teams, and all of them are close by,” said Richards.

Despite having such a successful summer, the Silvers were defeated in the third game of the playoffs despite his heroic 7-12 performance, Richards has already transitioned completely into preparations for Whitman’s 2011 season while keeping in mind what he learned this summer.

“I feel like I learned a couple of things about my swing and really figured out some concrete mechanical and mental things, and if I can hold on to those, it’ll really help me going into the season,” he said. “It’s pretty necessary to play in the summer, I think.”

Despite a strong summer in center field, Richards thinks he’ll be returning to his traditional post at shortstop for the Missionaries this spring.

“I play shortstop for Whitman, and at the end of the season last year I decided I wanted to make a change and transition into the outfield. I talked to coach about it and gave it a shot, and I had a lot of fun. Center’s a blast, but this year there’s a good chance I’ll play shortstop again, just because of how many outfielders we’re going to have.”

Richards and Korsmo, who together make up one-third of Whitman’s six returning players, will be joined this season by a whopping 17 new players, a surge of talent and energy Richards hopes will make for a strong showing in the spring.

“We have a really interesting season coming up. We have 17 new players, 15 freshmen and two transfers, so it’s going to be an interesting dynamic, and it’s going to be challenging. There are a lot of spots open, and a lot of guys will be competing for them, hopefully people will have good attitudes about it.”

While each season brings its own challenges, Richards says that so far, Whitman’s newest baseball players have proven themselves up to the test.

“All the guys that we had come out are really dedicated baseball players. They have been taking it into their own hands to organize practices outside of our own workouts, which is pretty unique to this class.”

Embarking upon his final year playing baseball for Whitman, Richards remains cautiously optimistic for the year to come.

“I don’t want to sound overly optimistic, because it is going to be a challenge having that many young guys, and it’s definitely a year for development, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t go out there and win a bunch of games,” he said.

For now, Richards and his teammates are content just to play baseball and savor the last vestiges of summer.

“We really have to take advantage of the good weather,” Richards says.

“It’s nicer now than it will be until after spring break. There’s nothing worse than waking up at 5:45 a.m. and walking over for 6 a.m. weightlifting in the snow.”