Even at 6 in the morning, Creighton's baseball team had a little extra hop in its step for Friday's first preseason practice.
The Bluejays had their first full-squad workout at the school's new Rasmussen Center. Being able to practice indoors on campus for the first time meant that the players didn't have to get up and drive 20 to 30 minutes to a private facility.
“That was definitely nice,” pitcher Mark Winkelman said.
The new facility, with its 40- by 60-yard artificial turf surface, also allowed for near nonstop activity.
“We can do more at the same time,” outfielder Mike Gerber said. “We can have the infielders going in one corner, pitchers and catchers in another and outfielders in another. There were times in the past where guys had to stand around and watch because there just wasn't room.”
Coach Ed Servais sensed a little excitement in the players once they shook out the cobwebs from getting started before the sun came up.
“Once they got a little comfortable in here after that first half-hour, their energy level went up,” Servais said. “It's just nice for them to know that they have a place on campus that we can go to if the weather doesn't cooperate.
“This has been the missing link because we always had to go off campus or even go outside when it was 20 degrees. Now, we can come in here and prepare our infielders the way we need to and our outfielders and catchers can stretch out their arms.”
Creighton built an indoor hitting facility for its baseball and softball programs in 2001 but there was not enough space at the Kitty Gaughan Pavilion for infield practice. To get in other work, the Bluejays had to rent time at private facilities in the Omaha area.
“It's unbelievable the things that have happened since I've been here,” said Winkelman, a senior left-hander from Harvard, Ill. “We signed a deal with Under Armour, we've moved to TD Ameritrade and now we have this.
“I think my class got the best of everything. It says a lot about the way the program is growing.”
Servais said it's important that the newcomers, who outnumber the veterans this season, are aware that the program is on an uptick.
“I hope our older players tell the new guys that things haven't always been like this,” he said. “And I hope our younger players have an appreciation for this opportunity. This is going to really benefit us.
“You hope the older guys educate the new guys on the history of our program, and part of our history has been that we've had to be creative at times to get our work in because we've never had a place like this.”
The Bluejays, coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1999-2000, have three weeks to prepare for a season-opening series at Dallas Baptist. The Patriots, an affiliate member of the Missouri Valley Conference, also are coming off consecutive appearances in the tournament.
Creighton will also be opening Dallas Baptist's new stadium, adding difficulty to its opening assignment.
“It will be a good challenge,” Gerber said. “We played well against them, but it's going to be a little different playing them at their ballpark. It's going to be a little more of a hitter's park than TD Ameritrade is.
“If we can go down there and do what we do — play defense, pitch well and score runs when we need to — I think good things will happen.”
As much as he likes having the new indoor facility, Servais can't wait to get outside. He said the Bluejays will practice outdoors on Saturday and hopefully can scrimmage by the end of next week.
“Just to have the thought of going outside at this time of the year is special,” Servais said. “It's a big deal whenever you can get outside a time or two before your first game.”
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