By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State's baseball team is dome-ready.
With four, six, eight inches of snow on the grounds at Tointon Family Stadium, the Wildcat baseball team is poised to open the 2010 season in Stockton, Calif., Friday (8 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) against Pacific after spending only three days outdoors during the preseason. Those days were this past Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
"What we've done is have simulated games indoors (in Brandenberry), and then go to the football facility to work on team defense," said coach Brad Hill. "We've had some years when we've been able to go outside, but this isn't one of them. You can't concern yourself with it."
The one comforting flavor to the months of January and February is the fact that Hill knows that he has a cast of 18 lettermen and six position players who will return to their 2010 positions, plus another in Jason King who was a starter in 2009. In addition is a trio of frontline starting pitchers that have Big 12 experience, plus a back end of the staff that is in an elite category out of the bullpen.
"We do have guys who have been out there. They've played before big crowds and played in big games," said Hill of the returnees from last year's 37-22 NCAA Regional season. "There are some high expectations, which can be a positive or a negative. What we want to do is take the field with confidence, but not arrogance."
Starting this weekend, Hill said of the team's early goals, "We just want to get everyone in uniform and used to playing with focus. We're counting on the older guys to provide leadership, and hope they will play with confidence and composure.
"Being on the road early is a good thing," said Hill. "It gives you a chance to focus without distractions and bond together as 28 guys."
If there's one position that must be replaced it's with the departure of leadoff man Adam Muenster, who hit .381 with 21 doubles and 26 stolen bases in 2010.
"I can't begin to explain how important he was to our team," said Hill. "He was on base all the time creating havoc. He allowed Carter (Jurica) (.363, 13 homers, 69 RBI) and (Nick) Martini (.416, 59 RBI) to get good pitches to hit and have the kind of season they had for us."
In looking for a replacement at the top of the order, Hill did say, "This is a team with excellent team speed."
Martini, the 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year, will be one of those candidates with 19 stolen bases to his credit last year.
"I'm sure he feels some pressure, but we just want him to go out and not try to do more than he can," said Hill. "We don't want him trying too hard to match last year's statistics, but he can do more to help the team by being a positive leader and encouraging the rest of the team."
Catcher - K-State will split time between Chase Graskewicz (sophomore, .359 in 2010) and Dan Klein (Hutchinson Community College transfer); First Base - Wade Hinkle (transfer from Cochise College); Second Base - Jake Brown (junior, .248 in 2010); Shortstop - Luke White (freshman, Fort Collins, Colo.; Third Base - Jason King (junior, started in 2009). Left Field - Nick Martini (junior, .418 in 2010); Center Field - Jared King (freshman Dublin, Ohio); Right Field - Kent Urban (senior, .265 in 2010)
Starters - Kyle Hunter (junior, 9-2, 4.59 in 2010), Matt Applegate (junior, 1-1, 9.58 in 2010), Levi Schlick (Barton County Community College transfer); Bullpen - Evan Marshall (junior, 5-5, 3.90 in 2010) and James Allen (junior, 5-1, 2.28, 9 saves in 2010).
Wildcats Picked No. 5
The Big 12 coaches have put Kansas State at an all-time high fifth-place position in the 2011 preseason poll.
Oklahoma received six first-place votes and Texas four top votes for the top two positions. Texas A&M, Baylor and K-State round out the top division.
Rounding out the poll are Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
K-State outfielder Nick Martini has been named a preseason third-team All-American by Baseball America.
Martini led the Big 12 with a .416 batting average as a sophomore, including a .433 mark in league play to rank eighth in conference history. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native also finished second in school history with 96 hits and broke K-State marks for longest hitting streak (26 games) and singles (71) last year.
Martini has also earned preseason All-American accolades from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and College Baseball Lineup, while College Baseball Daily rated him as the 29th-best player in the nation.
Also from the Big 12 are Texas pitchers Taylor Jungmann on the first team and Cole Green on the third team, plus Texas A&M pitcher John Silson on the second team.
Kansas State junior closer James Allen was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Preseason Stopper of the Year watch list.
Allen went 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA and nine saves, which were the fourth most in school history. A member of the 2011 NCBWA Preseason All-America team, the right-hander held a 3-0 record and a 2.54 ERA with four saves against Big 12 opponents, while he limited conference foes to a league-low .189 batting average.
Allen enters the 2011 season third in school history with 14 career saves and fourth in career relief appearances with 52.
He is the third K-State pitcher in the last four years to be named to the preseason watch list, joining Daniel Edwards (2008) and Thomas Rooke (2009).
Wildcat Baseball on the Airwaves and the Internet
Audio broadcasts from every game during the season will be available on either SportsRadio 1350 KMAN in Manhattan, online at www.k-statesports.com or www.1350kman.com. Some early-season games may not be aired on SportsRadio 1350 KMAN due to conflicts with men's and women's basketball, but will be available online.
Also, the K-State Sports Network will air five Friday night conference games and every postseason game this season. The regular-season schedule includes: April 1 vs. Texas A&M; April 8 vs. Oklahoma; April 22 vs. Texas Tech; May 6 vs. Missouri and May 20 vs. Kansas. Those games can be heard on KCLY (100.9 FM) in Clay Center, KRDQ (100.3 FM) in the Colby/Goodland area, KTOP (1490 AM) in Topeka, as well as KMAN (1350 AM) in Manhattan.
Due to on-going repairs to the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, K-State's two-game set with Minnesota has been postponed until next year.
K-State has replaced those games with Cal State Bakersfield on April 25-26 in Bakersfield, Calif. Cal State Bakersfield also had two games with Minnesota canceled.
The teams will also play a regularly-scheduled two-game set in Manhattan on May 3-4.
K-State is scheduled to play seven games before opening its home season with a four-game series with Western Illinois on March 4-5-6.
Prior to that are games this weekend in Stockton, Calif., against Pacific on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then a four-game trip into the state of South Carolina where the Wildcats will play Coastal Carolina, Western Kentucky, Pacific and California.
Big 12 Action
K-State's home Big 12 schedule this season will include series against Texas A&M on April 1-2-3, Oklahoma on April 8-9-10, Texas Tech on April 21-22-23, Missouri on May 6-7-8 and a game against Kansas on May 20.
The Wildcats will also host Wichita State on April 13.