Baseball learns hard lessons against tougher teams

Sye BennefieldBy Sye Bennefield


Head Baseball Coach Danny Heep has seen it all after playing 13 seasons in the major leagues with clubs such as the Houston Astros, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves.

Heep’s share of major-league memories and achievements in what he calls “The Show” include   two World Series Championships: first with the Mets in 1986 and with the Dodgers in 1988. Ironically, the Dodgers upset those very same Mets in the semifinal round of postseason play, and went on to beat the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Now how does this translate with UIW baseball? It doesn’t.

Coaching and playing careers are two separate entities. But they do share some truths. Such as the difficulties of a long season, both on the players and coaches.

Starting off the season Feb. 19 against the Long Island University-Brooklyn Blackbirds, the Cardinals won 8-2. Since then the Cardinals have suffered various injuries and have had to resort to moving different players in different positions.

The LIU game, Heep said, was “one of the few games we’ve been healthy. We ended up losing two outfielders and now possibly three outfielders and a couple of pitchers. So things have changed a lot from the first game to now as far what our squad looks like and who’s healthy.”Danny Heep

Others will focus on those injuries and say they have played a significant hand in the season thus far, but not Heep.

“It has something to do with it, yeah,” Heep said. “Now does it have everything to do with it, no. But I mean it has something to do with it. It changes your lineup. It changes your who-in-hell is going to play. And you know, it changes your defense.”

Because of injuries among the outfielders, the Cardinals have had to start a catcher in the position. Defensively it alters the lineup, the communication between players and defensive calls. But again, Heep won’t use that as an excuse.

Up next for the Cardinals was the Irish Alamo Invitational, played Feb. 25-27 in San Antonio. The invitational was a series of games against various out-of-state colleges such as Bradley, Notre Dame, Gonzaga and in-state opponent Texas Southern out of Houston. The team’s lone win was against Bradley.

“We played Texas Southern the first game of the tournament, which I was disappointed that we didn’t play very well and then of course Notre Dame (which) has a very good club. We don’t match up real well at this point,” Heep said.

Established Division I programs such as Norte Dame are hard opponents for newly promoted athletic programs such as UIW. It’s no secret to Heep.

“We’re not going to stack up against teams like that at this point, but over time maybe we will,” said Heep.

Heep said these games give his players the opportunities to play against stiffer competition and see what they should aim for as not only a Division I team but a Division I baseball program.

And with any kind of growth, a program will likely experience growing pains.

“We’ve got a very young pitching staff,” Heep said. “We’re trying to build for 2018 and ’19 when we do count for the playoffs.”

Count in about “13 or 14” recruits to help in that quest at the start of next season. Still, Heep said, next year’s offense will be young and wet behind the ears when it comes to playing college-level ball but that will pay off when the Cardinals are fully a Division I program.

“Offensively we’re going to be very, very young and a new team, so this is kind of a transition year for us,” Heep said.


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