The University of Maine baseball team will fly all the way across the country Thursday — from Portland to Atlanta to Portland, Ore. — for its series against Oregon State.
Fans might wonder what would lead the Black Bears to embark on such a long trip.
Basically, because it’s free.
Scheduling is an important and challenging part of Steve Trimper’s job as UMaine’s head coach. The Oregon State trip is a win-win for the program.
First, the Bears get test themselves against another top-25 team. Better yet, the experience won’t cost them a cent.
“The guarantee is $19,000 and [the cost of] our hotels,” said Trimper, who compared that to what UMaine might have done this same weekend, in the past.
“We’d get on a bus this weekend and drive to New York Tech. It’s a $12,000 weekend,” Trimper said. “Now [going to OSU], we’re not going to pay a dime. We might even come home with some money.”
Trimper’s goal every year is establishing a balance between games against top-level programs and those with comparable talent. He is pleased with how this year’s nonconference schedule is working out for UMaine.
“You can schedule light [against weaker teams] and get a false sense of confidence,” Trimper explained. “You can schedule heavy and have your kids get down and think that they’re not good. I worked hard on this schedule getting the right mix of teams that were good, the right weekends.”
This weekend, UMaine plays a four-game series against nationally-ranked Oregon State. The Beavers are ranked in the top 18 in five national polls, including as high as No. 13 in the Collegiate Baseball top 25.
The Bears have already played a three-game set at then-No. 11 North Carolina and a season-opening series at Lamar of the Southland Conference.
Those series also came with financial benefits. Lamar paid all the Bears’ expenses after the first $4,000.
“For $4,000 I can’t go play a game in Portland, Maine,” Trimper said.
North Carolina offered $6,000 plus the cost of the hotel and UMaine used that series as a springboard into its annual Florida trip.
UMaine went 0-3 at Lamar (now 12-4), then took one of the contests against the Tar Heels (13-4, ranked 17th).
“That North Carolina win is going to go a long way with recruiting for the next two or three years,” Trimper said.
It also provided a big boost of confidence to the players, who came away knowing they can compete with just about any team they encounter the rest of the way, including Oregon State.
“It should be fun,” said sophomore center fielder Taylor Lewis.
“I know we have the confidence to go down there and compete with them and pull at least one or two games out,” he added.
The Beavers will be among the best teams UMaine will face this season, especially on the mound.
“We’re going to go out and face big-time pitching,” Trimper said.
By the same token, there won’t be any sense of awe among the Bears’ players.
“We’re not going out there thinking, can we compete with these guys?” Trimper said. “We’re going out there knowing we’re good and we can compete with the best of them.”
With the unseasonably warm, late-winter weather long since having disposed of the lingering snow on the ground at Mahaney Diamond, the Bears will return to Orono and gear up for their home-opening series (March 26-28) against Lehigh.
UMaine then has a final nonconference series at New Jersey Tech before starting America East play against Albany the weekend of April 10-11.
“This is like the final tune-up of top-notch competition before we try to take the next two weeks with Lehigh home and New Jersey Tech on the road,” Trimper said. “Hopefully the next two weekends we can roll a little bit and get ready for Albany and start the conference off. The real season starts then.”