There were bound to be some growing pains this season for the University of Maine baseball team.
The Black Bears have a revamped lineup that has routinely included four or five new positional starters, with three or four freshmen among them, on any given day.
That dynamic has contributed to UMaine’s 12-20 start, including a 3-4 America East record. Coach Steve Trimper’s team sits in fourth place, two games behind Binghamton and Albany (both 5-2) and three back of league leader Stony Brook (6-1).
In addition to UMaine’s lack of experience, some of its veterans have been mired in batting slumps in recent weeks. The result has been inconsistency leading to sporadic offensive production.
The Bears have averaged only 3.4 runs per game thus far in seven America East contests, which has some of the hitters pressing.
Co-captain Joey Martin of Portland, the team’s only senior starter, has been trying to work out some issues with his swing. He feels a responsibility to produce at the plate.
“I think I wanted to get on base and get something started so bad, I was just a little anxious,” Martin said of an eighth-inning at-bat during Sunday’s game at Hartford in which he popped up to shortstop.
“We’ve just got to relax,” he said. “It’s just one game. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward.”
Despite having won two of three games at Hartford, Trimper huddled the team in the back of the Cyr motor coach Sunday afternoon on the return trip to Orono.
Trimper said the theme of the lengthy discussion centered around creating a better sense of accountability and an atmosphere of hard work and mutual support among the players.
“As a group, we have to play more as a team,” Trimper said. “The guys will be the first ones to admit that.”
Baseball requires players to work individually on their skills to become proficient as hitters, fielders and throwers. Trimper said that constant emphasis on personal development can create an attitude of self-focus that detracts from the team dynamic.
“Baseball is designed to be a selfish game and, right now, a big part of what we need to do is to play less selfish as a group,” Trimper said. “The guys are committed to that, they understand it and it’s going to help us in the future.”
The future begins Tuesday with a 5 p.m. nonleague game against Colby College of Waterville at Mahaney Diamond in Orono.
Home, sweet home
UMaine will finally play its home opener with the distinction of having opened the season with the most consecutive road games of any Division I program in the country.
The Bears’ appearance in Orono ends a streak of 32 straight games away from home.
UMaine is expected be among the last of the nation’s 300 Division I teams to play a home game. The University of North Dakota also is scheduled to open at home Tuesday, after 20 away contests.
North Dakota State, which had its home-opening series canceled because of inclement weather last weekend, will be the last to host a game when it plays Friday in Fargo — after 28 straight road games.
Niagara University in upstate New York made its home debut Friday after playing its first 30 contests elsewhere.
The Black Bears will close out the season with a healthy dose of home games. UMaine plays 15 of its final 20 contests in Orono, with two other nonconference games slated for Old Orchard Beach and Sanford.