It is a revamped schedule this season for the University of Maine baseball team.
Not only will the Black Bears take part in the new America East format, coach Steve Trimper’s team will face some top-level national opponents during its nonconference schedule.
UMaine will take on the likes of 10th-ranked Oregon State, the national champion in 2006 and ’07, and No. 13 North Carolina, which has been in the College World Series four years in a row, during the regular season, which begins Feb. 19.
“I think it’s one of the most competitive or challenging schedules that Maine’s had in a number of years, maybe even back to the coach [John] Winkin era,” said Trimper, who is in his fifth season directing the Bears.
He hopes this team has enough talent and experience to be able to stand up to the schedule it will face.
“We do scheduling a few years out and this was a year that we thought we’d have some veteran ballplayers, some guys that could handle an up-and-down a little bit better,” he added. “The one thing about this team, it’s a team that’s not intimidated.”
UMaine opens the campaign with a three-game series Feb. 19-20 at Lamar in Beaumont, Texas. The Bears return home for classes, then head to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face the Tar Heels for a three-game set Feb. 26-28.
That series opens UMaine’s annual spring trip, which will again include a three-game stint in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational at Winter Haven, Fla., followed by the weeklong Rollins College “Baseball Week” Tournament March 7-14 at Winter Park, Fla.
The Bears resume their nonleague schedule March 19-21with a four-game series against Oregon State at Corvallis. They return to Maine in the hope of opening the northern portion of the schedule March 26-28 with a four-game set against Lehigh at Mahaney Diamond.
UMaine plays four more nonconference road games at New Jersey Tech and entertains Thomas College of Waterville before kicking off its America East schedule April 10-11 with a three-game road series at Albany.
This season, the Bears will compete in the North Division along with Hartford and Albany, while Stony Brook, Binghamton and Maryland Baltimore County make up the South Division.
UMaine will play two, three-game series with divisional rivals, one home and one away. Meanwhile, the Bears face teams in the other division for a four-game set. Those sites will be alternated each year.
“It actually added a week into our conference season, which helped scheduling so much better,” Trimper said of the seven-week America East alignment.
UMaine is home to Stony Brook, but will travel to Binghamton and UMBC in other interdivision contests.
The new setup should reinvigorate rivalries with divisional foes and should help teams reduce stress on their pitching staffs. The benefit would come during the three-game series, which occur every other weekend.
“You can kind of rest or not really tax out your pitching staff so much because you’re trying to survive the weekend,” Trimper said.
The Bears have been going through individual drills since returning from the semester break and resume team workouts next week.
More improvements at Mahaney
Last year, the Black Bears unveiled the new FieldTurf at Mahaney Diamond.
This spring, they’ll be “chilling” in new dugouts.
Trimper said work is already under way to replace Mahaney Diamond’s concrete, in-ground dugouts.
“They’re out there building them right now,” Trimper said Friday. “We’re certainly going to have it done by our first game.”
Trimper said the old dugouts were cramped, too low and experienced drainage problems.
He explained all of the more than $100,000 needed for the project was raised through private donations and fundraising. The renovations should pretty much complete the upgrades that have again made Mahaney Diamond on of the better college facilities in the Northeast.
“Everything that we work for is done through fundraising, camps and clinics, speeches and donors,” Trimper said. “We’re extremely fortunate that there are people who are willing to help us out with either financial contributions or other support to the program that makes these things possible.”