A new era of baseball is underway at Blinn College.
A revamped roster led by accomplished first-year head coach Dusty Hart will take the field at freshly renovated Leroy Dreyer Field at 4 p.m. Friday for its season-opening home tilt against Weatherford College.
Hart, a national championship-winning skipper who spent 16 seasons as head coach of Grayson College before arriving at Blinn, will open his first campaign with the Buccaneers with the same philosophy that helped him capture 623 career victories.
"I haven't changed anything from what I've always done, and that's to just try to find the best baseball players I can find," Hart said. "I've always felt that our job as college baseball coaches is the accumulation of talent, and then you put them out there and let them compete. My brand of baseball is simple: I just like to play good baseball and I like to play the game the way it was drawn up. If you do things the right way, everything else will take care of itself."
Blinn will debut a roster during its three-game set with Weatherford this weekend that will look drastically different from a season ago. The Buccaneers have just one holdover from 2022 – sophomore catcher Kyle Peschel. The rest of the roster is composed of freshman recruits, Division I transfers, and a core of sophomores who transferred from Grayson to Blinn following the hiring of Hart.
The new-look roster fits perfectly with the revamped stadium the Bucs call home. Leroy Dreyer Field underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation during the offseason, which included a brand-new clubhouse and upgrades to the home dugout, coaches' offices, concession stands, fan restrooms, and other areas.
"You look around and you can tell how much Blinn and the Brenham community cares about baseball," sophomore pitcher Sam Crain said. "Everything that's happening here right now, it's exciting. We get to lay a new foundation with a new coach and a new team. We get a chance to get a new tradition going."
Blinn will look to navigate its first season under Hart with a relatively young squad. Of its 36 players, just seven are sophomores. However, sophomore catcher Ian Collier believes the Bucs have enough leadership in their second-year class to accelerate the maturation process.
"We have a great group of guys who all have the same mindset about working hard and starting the spring off on the right foot," said Collier. "We have guys here who know how to win and who will pass that knowledge and experience on to the younger guys. The younger guys are hungry to learn and compete, too, and want to win, so I think it's going to come together quickly."
Collier also said the team will benefit from internal competition, as hitters and pitchers are still vying for starting roles.
"We're pushing each other day by day," he said. "Everybody wants to be a starter and be that guy the team turns to on the mound or at the plate. We're pushing each other in the classroom, on the field, and in the weight room, and that helps everyone and makes this a better team."
As far as how the team will play the game, Hart said his offense should bring a mix of power to the heart of the lineup, with a mix of speed and athleticism making up the front and back ends of the order. The coach also said he expects to field a multitude of lineups during the team's first 20-25 ballgames before settling on a rotation of hitters he feels will give the Bucs their best shot.
"Matchups are going to be key," Hart said. "One thing I do like about this team is that we have a lot of diversity in terms of right- and left-handed hitters, so we ought to be able to match up well with other teams. We want to create an environment where our opponents have to pick their poison. Do opposing pitchers want to put our speed on the bases or attack the heart of the order that can drive the ball out of the park? Those are the tough choices we want to force other teams to make."
On the mound, Hart is excited for a staff that he thinks will be diverse. Crain is expected to shine following a successful season at Grayson, but other arms on the staff should make an impact this spring.
"I'm liking the depth we have," Crain said. "Our starters can give us five to seven innings, and we have a bunch of backend guys we can throw out who can get us outs. Everyone here is capable of doing the job and that's exciting."
Though Hart has spent the entirety of his coaching career in Region V, he and his staff are familiar with what Region XIV brings to the table. The Bucs open region play against Alvin Community College at home on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
"Baseball in Texas is tough, and I'd argue that it's the toughest state in the entire junior college baseball world," Hart said. "Whether it's Region XIV or Region V, there are no off days, I can tell you that. If you take days off, you'll get beat by anybody in this league. With that said, though, the goal will never change for us; the goal is to win a national championship. You set the bar high, and hopefully, you have a bunch of guys who are striving to get there every day. That's what we want to bring to Blinn; we want the expectation to be to win a national championship – not just go to the regional tournament and not just go to Grand Junction, but to actually go to nationals and come home and award Blinn College and the city of Brenham with a championship."
Story by Joe Alberico, Blinn College Sports Information