By Devin Jones
Their first year as a team was all about contending with top-level talent. Their second year centered on stringing together wins. Now, as head coach Ben Rich and the Ryerson baseball team suit up for a third year, the only goal in mind is making the playoffs.
Heading into their last weekend of baseball for the 2014-2015 regular season, the Rams were on a five game winning streak and one game out of a playoff spot. Facing a U of T team that held a losing record of 8-10, the Rams were blown out in both games, ending their season early.
“When we started this program back in 2012 and had our first season in 2013 we knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight thing,” said Rich. “We knew it was going to take a number of years to develop that winning culture, the understanding of the game that would translate into wins and a playoff performance.”
The 2013 season saw the Rams trying to find their footing in a league filled with veteran teams like the Western Mustangs who went 17-10 and defeated the Rams on three separate occasions. Despite strong offensive potential and pitching prowess from Caleb King and Bryan Vardzel, a lack of chemistry and various defensive errors saw the Rams limp to a 3-19 finish.
The beginning of the 2014 season saw more of the same. Strong starts and offensive production from the likes of shortstop Mark Tari and first baseman Josh Lund were negated by the Rams’ inability to play a consistent nine innings. This led to the Rams holding a 2-10 record at the end of September.
It was the last game of that month — a 12-2 win over Queens University — that kicked off Ryerson’s five game win streak and saw them make a push for the playoffs. Sharper defensive play, as well as 40 runs during the five -game streak — nine more than their previous 11 games combined — led to a huge momentum swing towards the end of the season.
“There just seemed to be a time where everything that the coaching staff had been instilling in them sunk in,” said Rich. “They make one play the way we teach it or they execute [it] another way it’s supposed to be and they start to realize, ‘Hey if we do this enough, good things are going to happen for us.’”
Funding for the baseball team also looks different than in previous seasons. During their first two years the Rams went through a probationary, or what Rich likes to call a “trial” period, a process every new program has to go through in order to secure funding from Ryerson Athletics at a later date. Now off probation, the baseball team can apply to athletics for various funding needs, including an athletic trainer to help keep the players healthy. For the Rams to move up through the tiered funding system within athletics, they’ll have to consistently perform well and win games.
“They have their sport model and then basically we came along and said, ‘Lets start a baseball team,’ so it had to fit within what they had conceived of, working around how they’ve based their operations,” said Rich. “We’ve been able to work with athletics to have this team come to fruition, and to provide all these opportunities for student athletes to succeed and flourish in the years to come.”
For the Rams, a crucial aspect to this season is what Rich and the team refers to as not falling asleep at the switch on the first weekend of the year, or risk being down four games in an 18-game season. The Rams are looking to avoid this issue by playing six pre-season exhibition games — more than ever before — to be in best shape for the start of the regular season.
As the first games draw closer, the excitement for what lays ahead ramps up. This season is shaping up to be something special, a coming out party for a team that’s finally found its legs and is ready to show the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and the Ryerson community what it’s really capable of.
The Rams kick off their season Sept. 12 with a doubleheader against the McMaster Marauders at Talbot park with a start time of 12 p.m.