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Duke baseball returns to practice looking to continue program's momentum

Rothenberg was one of the top college catchers in the country this past season, posting an impressive .349/.551/.605 slash line.
Rothenberg was one of the top college catchers in the country this past season, posting an impressive .349/.551/.605 slash line.

Duke baseball finally returned to full practice Saturday for the first time since March. Ahead of their scrimmage, head coach Chris Pollard and seniors Joey Loperfido and Michael Rothenberg shared their thoughts on the summer, this fall and the coming season:

Pollard on changes to the team’s routine:

“Most of the protocols deal with our away-from-the-field experience: how guys are managing their day-to-day away from the field, from things like the locker room and the weight room to taking their classes online, to even things like how they get their meals and certainly being great about social distancing. 

"The baseball side of it is honestly about the most normal thing that we do. You won't see as many guys in the dugout, you'll see us use the [Jack Coombs Field] grandstand a little more as what I’ve described as a 'big dugout'—so you’ll see more players in the stands than usual, and you’ll see guys in masks when they’re not spread out around the field. But, baseball is our little escape every day from all the COVID mitigation. Once you get out there on the field, that part of it really feels very normal and very comfortable to our coaches and our players.”

Loperfido on the escape the sport provides:

“Baseball’s really the fun part, to be honest. Getting out on the field and practicing and scrimmaging this weekend with the guys is honestly what is a little bit of a release for everyone. Duke’s done a great job bringing us back in August, but it’s tough. I mean, we can’t hang out with each other like we normally can, online classes kind of present a different kind of challenge compared to in-person. But to be honest, baseball has just kind of been a release, and it’s been fun for guys."

Pollard on building the team’s social bonds:

“Guys are struggling with connectivity away from the field. We can't put them in a position to have large gatherings right now… I think it's incumbent upon us as coaches to try to be creative. We’ve had some baseball nights at Coombs, where we’ll put a major league game on the video board and have the guys out and buy some pizzas and let them spread out there and watch a baseball game together. This past Wednesday, we had a golf outing over at the Washington Duke, and guys had a lot of fun with that. But we’ve got to figure out ways that we can safely get them together away from the field, so that they can be developing those relationships that we know are an important part of their experience here at Duke.

Rothenberg on turning down major-league UDFA contracts to return to Duke:

“I had some discussions [with MLB teams]. I thought, coming out of the draft, I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t have those conversations, make those connections with teams. I think I handled the process pretty well. At the end of the day, I just valued this team a little more than what could have happened under that process, so I made the decision to come back, and I’m really thrilled with it.”

Pollard on how Duke “won quarantine”:

“We used technology, we were fortunate that we met on a weekly basis—and sometimes more than weekly, multiple times per week—over the course of the summer. We brought in different speakers and leaders to challenge our guys in different ways. We have brought representatives from Major League Baseball, we had a major-league manager, we had a major-league hitting coach, we had a major-league pitching coach that came and spent time with our players. We had different military leaders and business executives… we had a number of our Duke Baseball alums on various calls with us, to give us ideas, to give us perspective, to keep cohesion. 

"And then a big part of it is the job that Dan Perlmutter, our sports performance coach, Dusky Blake, our pitching coach, who also manages the throwing programs for our positional guys, and then coach [Jason] Stein, who put together a hitting plan to keep these guys physically ready. And along with that, try to stay mentally connected and emotionally connected to one another, so that when we got back here in August, we had the ability to to hit the ground running.”

Rothenberg on the projected rotation:

“I think Jack Carey threw his first simulated game the other day, and [was] just lights-out, pounding the zone. He’s kind of sitting 93-94 [miles per hour], a few 95s in there. He’s always had a great slider, kind of improved changeup. He’s a junior now, so I think just that composure and experience is going to show. 

"I think Cooper Stinson showed what he could do last spring. I mean, that guy—when he’s on, it’s crazy what he can do. I mean, he’s heavy fastball, good splitter—he throws that splitter at about 88 [mph] when he’s going good. And then Henry Williams. Last fall, we saw what that kid can do, and he’s only gotten a year older and a year better. 

"Jarvis was obviously special, and I think with the depth of our pitching staff, we shouldn't have too much of a problem putting together a really good weekend [rotation].”

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