EUGENE — Freshmen learn quickly that a college baseball field is a much different place than their old high school haunts.
Players are bigger, stronger and faster, and it’s an entire lineup a pitcher has to be wary of facing.
“Hitters one through nine. In high school you might have one or two good hitters,” said Oregon freshman pitcher Jake Reed, expected to be the Ducks’ starter for Sunday’s game two of the best-of-three NCAA super regional series versus Kent State at PK Park.
“Once you get into college, especially the Pac(-12) and the playoffs, there are competitive guys up there that are going to be with you every single pitch, one through nine.”
The super regional gets started at 8 p.m. Saturday, with the series winner headed to the College World Series.
Reed and fellow freshmen Jordan Spencer and Thomas Thorpe have had their skills and nerves tested early.
Reed has been Oregon’s No. 2 starter this season, with a 7-4 record and 2.93 earned-run average in 16 starts.
Thorpe has made a team-high 32 appearance (one start), with a 2-0 mark and 2.25 ERA.
Spencer, who pitcher a no-hitter against Portland on April 18 in Keizer, has played in 12 games (six starts), with a 4-2 record and 4.26 ERA.
“You haven’t learned unless there’s failure,” said Spencer, from Beaverton. “It also helps you adjust, and it helps you grind through those situations.”
It’s an eye-opener for freshmen when they join a college baseball team for the first time, often in the fall for practice.
Thorpe, a left-hander, said it’s a lot of work he never had to do out at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
“A lot of conditioning and mental preparing,” he said. “When I went out and did my first scrimmage, there was a lot of adrenaline coming out. It was intense, then you calm down a little bit and get into a groove.”
Oregon coach George Horton stresses the mental part of the game as an important aspect.
He brings in experts to help his players work on breathing, relaxing and focusing.
It’s dealing with the rise and fall of emotions and pressure situations. They call it being comfortable being uncomfortable.
For freshmen, those highs and lows are multiplied because they’ve often never been in those circumstances before on a baseball field.
Horton describes facing a talented hitter, “King Kong,” and the mental approach taken as well as the readiness to get that hitter out.
“You go ‘oh boy I get to pitch against him,’ you’re ready,” the coach said. “If it’s, ‘oh no, King Kong is coming to the plate’, you’ve got a problem.”
Horton says much of the work freshmen do in preparing to play at the college level is done long before they arrive.
Those players who have life experiences and haven’t had their parents do everything for them in their formative years often have a leg up on those who haven’t learned to do things for themselves, the coach said.
Then when they move away from home, there’s the adjustment to managing all aspects of life on your own, which can have a direct effect on their play.
“Some people take a while to grow up,” Horton said. “It’s one of those development things that we stress.”