AUBURNDALE, FLA. – The next time you attend a St. Thomas baseball game at Koch Diamond on the St. Paul campus, arrive an hour early for the pre-game “show.” You won’t regret it.
You won’t find any cheerleaders or dance teams or spectator contests of skills, and Tommie the mascot probably won’t be there to exchange high-fives with you. There will be no flashy, chest-thumping introductions and no one will serenade the audience with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
What the keen observer will see, after grabbing his or her seat behind home plate, is a team’s careful and exacting preparation for the game ahead. It’s another Tommie tradition – almost a ritual – that reflects the team’s personality, drive and discipline.
On a sunny, mid-70s Saturday during the spring break trip to Florida, the No. 1 Tommies arrive at Lake Myrtle Field No. 4 for a noon doubleheader against the University of Chicago. They dump their gear in the first-base dugout, saunter to rightfield and split into two horizontal lines about 15 feet apart. They lightly toss balls back and forth, gradually lengthening their throws and increasing their velocity.
The infielders eventually wander back to the dugout. The outfielders remain to shag flies or play more catch, and the pitchers continue to throw balls among each other.
“Okay guys, let’s take infield,” Coach Chris Olean says at 11:15 a.m. Assistant coach Ray Noble hits grounder balls to infielders lined up two deep at each position, starter and backup. Third basemen alternate taking grounders and throwing to first; followed by shortstops and second basemen, and the first basemen throw to the catchers. After a couple of repetitions, Noble hits more grounders, with the infielders instructed to turn double plays.
It’s all very methodical and repetitious – click, click, bang, bang. The ball pings off Noble’s bat, is scooped up by an infielder and quickly thrown to the right bag. It sounds boring, but the crisp execution is something to admire – and not just by faithful fans. The Chicago players turn to watch on their own, fixated in their own appreciation of how the Tommies carry out the drill.
Olean stands in front of the dugout and watches intently, hat off. The sun surely feels good on his shaved head, but he’s not on the field to get a tan, and those eyes don’t miss a beat. After Chicago takes the infield to go through its own drills, Olean continues to watch, looking perhaps for any telltale signs of strength or weakness.
The Tommies mill around the dugout, which is framed in chained-link fence and has a concrete floor scuffed with infield dirt and sunflower seed shells. Some players sit on the aluminum bench and others fiddle with bats, hats and hitting gloves. There is light chatter. They are restless.
“Let’s get it today! Let’s get it today!” Noble gently urges over and over as he walks around and bumps fists with the players.
Olean wanders down the first-base line to check on starting pitcher Mark Dominick and monitors his warmup tosses. The coach makes a brief comment after each pitch, and finally they break away and head back toward the dugout to join the rest of the team.
It’s 11:45 a.m., and the players huddle. One of them leads the team in “Hail Mary” and “The Our Father,” after which a player says, “Mary, Queen of Victory, pray for us.” The group falls silent for a moment and another player says, “On 3 . . . 1, 2, 3” and his teammates chant, “Tommies!”
They take the field and get ready for the first pitch. It’s 11:50. It’s time to play ball.