Follow the Leader

Following our offseason update podcast last week, I wanted to address an issue that came up often during last season: leadership.

Leadership is an intangible quality that you either have or you do not, and last year, this Michigan State baseball team was lacking some true leaders. During tough games against Central Michigan (0-3 record against Central during the season) and in four extra-inning games (0-4 on season) there was little leadership presence to speak of.

Often in tough games when there are eight errors like the Spartans recorded in the April 8 matchup against the Chippewas, the team will look towards the dugout for a leader to step up and take charge, motivate his teammates and get them back on track. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done last year for Michigan State.

However, there is some good news at the end of the road here for the Spartans. Last year, Michigan State had three seniors on the roster, with only one receiving significant playing time. The Spartans were a very young ball club. Following the Big Ten Championship, Spartan fans projected at least four Michigan State players to leave via the MLB Draft.

To the surprise of almost everyone in East Lansing, the only players drafted were senior catcher Joel Fisher and junior right fielder Jimmy Pickens. This left Big Ten strikeouts leader Mick VanVossen and slugging first baseman/designated hitter Blaise Salter – arguably the Spartans’ two best players last year, undrafted.

Although, this was disappointing that these Spartans were not entering the draft, it was an exciting moment for the coaching staff and Spartan baseball fans to welcome back two dynamic players.

In a summer interview, head coach Jake Boss spoke about the return of those two players and their ascension into leadership roles last year.

“With guys like Blaise Salter and Mick VanVossen, they really grow throughout the course of the year and really kind of assumed those leadership roles as the year progressed,” Boss said. “When we got to the tournament as a team we played our best, and I think that was because some of those younger guys started to assume some of those leadership roles.”

Both Boss and fans should take that information and be excited for what this upcoming season has in store. With the improved leadership presence toward the end of the year and this ball club transitioning into more of a veteran team, leadership will be shown during every single inning.

In terms of the Spartans’ two leaders both in the stat-line and in the dugout, Boss thinks things will only get better.

“Both those guys will come back in the fall with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, which is a good thing,” Boss said.

In a more recent interview with the Spartans, Boss talked about the new leadership program that the team is implementing this winter as they prepare for the upcoming 2015 season.

“I think a lot of guys have done a really nice job and we have put an emphasis on playing for your teammates. We don’t have captains this year, but we did something a little bit differently this year where we have taken guys from each class, two guys from each class, and made those the guys that were elected the team leaders right now and that’s a little bit more than we did a year ago,” Boss said. “I’m excited about it and the players are excited about it.”

A lot has changed since the same point in the season last year. Michigan State has developed their talent into leaders both on the field and off. Boss’ focus on discipline, passion and detail continues to emanate from his players’ performances so far this fall.

The Spartans will begin their offseason winter workouts and continue to stride for success and play for the guy next to them as they prepare for the 2015 season.

Zac Swierad is the host of Warning Track for Impact Sports.

Photo: Hannah McEnroe/Impact Sports