By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17
Grab a hot dog, some peanuts and a bag of cracker jacks – baseball season is finally upon us.
FIU baseball Head Coach Mervyl Melendez is back in the dugout for his second season, looking to build off a 31-win season in 2017.
But the team that will be taking the field this season looks vastly different from last year’s squad. With 12 incoming freshmen and five transfers, more than half of the roster wasn’t here a year ago.
What the Panthers lack in experience, however, they expect to make up with talent. The incoming freshman class was one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the nation and three of them – pitchers Logan Allen and Christian Santana and catcher Jose Garcia – were named among the top newcomers in Conference USA.
“We’re going to have a high intensity, high energy level of play,” Melendez says. “This is a very talented team, and we have to play with a lot of passion. They know what’s at stake and know what it takes to win. I believe that everything is in place for them to be successful.”
Despite losing most of the team’s top offensive producers from 2017, the Panthers are bringing back several key players from last season who will play a prominent role this season.
Sophomore Javier Valdes hit .287 with five home runs and 36 RBI as a freshman and will provide some continuity for FIU. He bounced around several positions last year in the infield and outfield, but is now making the transition to catcher.
“The biggest thing about this team is how great the chemistry is. As soon as we got together, it felt like a big, happy family,” Valdes says.
On the mound, sophomore pitchers Nick MacDonald – a preseason All-Conference USA team selection – and Tyler Myrick will anchor FIU pitching staff. MacDonald led all pitchers with a 7-3 record; Myrick had a team-best 3.73 ERA.
Melendez acknowledges the team will have to overcome some challenges, especially early on in the season, if they are going to find success. Many of the new additions to the team have never played together before and will be called on to make contributions as freshmen.
Still, Melendez is confident they will find a way to break through.
“What we do have is guys who are hungry and excited to play, and you can overcome challenges with that mentality,” Melendez says.
The Panthers open up their season at home on Feb. 16, kicking off a three-game weekend series against Missouri at FIU Baseball Stadium. Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
There are some exciting home games on the 2018 schedule for Panther fans to circle on their calendars.
FIU’s rivalry with the University of Miami continues this season with a pair of games. The Panthers will host the Hurricanes on Wednesday, March 7, at FIU Baseball Stadium and will head to Coral Gables for a rematch on April 25.
The Panthers will also host weekend series against conference rival Florida Atlantic (May 4-6) and defending Conference USA champion Rice (May 17-19).
For more information on FIU baseball, go to FIUSports.com.