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Mild winter puts No. 15 Michigan baseball ahead of game

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Being a cold-weather baseball team is a disadvantage.

But Michigan baseball coaches and players were thrilled with the weather this winter, as the Wolverines were able to get outside for either practices or training sessions between 10 and 15 times.

That, in coach Erik Bakich's estimation, was more than the last three years combined.

"You're not planning on it in January or February, so when it happens, you take advantage of it," Bakich said Monday, Michigan's media day. "We're fortunate to have a turf field. Even a day when you get some rain, you can play through it. You get some snow, you can push it off.

"With the mild winter that we've had thus far, it's been very beneficial for our ability to train outside."

Michigan, which had some players throwing outside on an overcast Monday, enters this season, the program's 150th, with sky-high expectations, even it's trying not to fuel the hype.

Truth is, the Wolverines are coming off a Big Ten tournament championship, an appearance in a regional final, and are ranked No. 15 in Baseball America's preseason college Top 25.

To put that ranking in perspective, Michigan is the only Midwest school in the rankings.

Carmen Benedetti

"The message has been pretty simple," said Bakich, entering his fourth year as head coach. "It's nice to get recognized, because you've been recognized for hard work.

"But those rankings fall in the uncontrollable zone. It really has no impact on the outcomes of a game, no impact on our training. These guys are going to continue to strive to improve daily, regardless of the rankings."

Bakich, more than once, borrowed a line from football coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Be better today than we were yesterday."

"Hey," Bakich said, laughing, "it's a great line."

Michigan, coming off a 39-25 record and third-place (tied with Maryland and Michigan State) showing in the Big Ten's regular season, returns five starters, including key players like senior pitcher Evan Hill, junior pitcher Brett Adcock, sophomore infielder Jake Bivens and senior pitcher/RBI machine Carmen Benedetti, who drove in 71 runs a season ago and being tabbed as a third-team preseason All-American.

And Bakich has recruited what's expected to be another strong freshman class.

The Wolverines will get a better idea of their ceiling with some serious early season traveling, including four games in Florida against Canisius, eight games in California (including one against Cal), four games at Hawaii and three games at Oklahoma State.

There'll be lots of bonding, lots of movies to watch — the players' favorites, at least among baseball movies, are, "The Rookie," "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams," and "The Sandlot" — when they're not playing games, and enjoying the warm weather.

Not that weather, for once, has been issue for Michigan this year.

"Even if we didn't get a great climate or great couple weeks of weather," said Bakich, "it wouldn't have prohibited us from achieving anything we wanted to."