Current Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:39:05 -0500
Spring exhibition matches are nothing new. When coach Mike Fox was a player himself in the late ‘70s, the North Carolina baseball team hosted the New York Yankees for a matchup every other preseason.
But playing games in the fall? Fox had never done that before his squad took on the Ontario Blue Jays on Monday.
“That was weird,” Fox said after UNC topped the Blue Jays 11-4. “That was really weird seeing another team coming down the steps over there in September.”
It was also a valuable change of pace.
The Tar Heels are four weeks into a six-week fall practice season, which normally consists of intrasquad scrimmages followed by an intrasquad Fall World Series. By bringing in the Blue Jays, who were overmatched as an 18-under amateur league team, Fox thought he provided his players a fall adrenaline boost.
“It’s always fun to have another team come in here and try to beat them,” sophomore catcher Korey Dunbar said. “It just kind of amps up everything.”
It wasn’t a conventional game by any stretch — UNC was leading 9-4 after nine innings and continued to play until the top of the 14th in order to give more pitchers work. Some players came into the game, were removed and came back in; others batted out of order, and the rules, as a whole, were abandoned.
But Fox was able to evaluate his players in game action earlier than usual — and that was the goal. The coach said he was impressed by what he saw from freshmen Adam Pate and Wood Myers who batted first and second, respectively, and showcased some of their agility on the basepaths. He also had the opportunity to see six pitchers — five freshmen, one sophomore — take the hill, and they combined to allow just one earned run.
With the Tar Heels losing six players to the MLB draft, those freshmen could potentially play pivotal roles this season.
UNC might also need veterans to fill new roles.
Sophomore Landon Lassiter, a shortstop by trade and a designated hitter for most of last season, played at third base Monday. It’s the same position No. 6-overall draft pick Colin Moran held for the past three seasons.
“I’ve never played there much in my life,” Lassiter said. “But I’m practicing as hard as I can and just learning the little things.”
Fox said Lassiter is his likely opening-day starter at third, but he wouldn’t commit to any decisions just yet. The action may have come earlier, but the evaluation process is nowhere near complete.
“There’s always competition,” Fox said. “I’m never going to tip my hand in September.”