On the surface, Creighton’s baseball team appears to have plenty going for it heading into the 2016 season.
The Bluejays are loaded with experience, both in the field and on the mound. They’ve come oh-so-close to advancing to the NCAA tournament the past two years, and the players are adamant that they don’t intend to fall short this season.
“On paper, we look pretty attractive,” coach Ed Servais said.
In order for Creighton to get where it wants to go this season, Servais is convinced it’s going to take more than talent. That’s why he’s been emphasizing since last fall the need for his players to add a dash a leadership to their games.
“This is not going to be a talent thing with this group,” Servais said. “If we don’t play well this year, it’s going to be by choice that we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings or make each other accountable.
“We make those choices every day, and it’s up to the players. It’s the other things that are going to separate us.”
Servais’ players say they have heard their coach’s message loud and clear. They agree that the difference between playing in June and packing up the bats at the end of May might come down to more than pitching, hitting and defense.
Several players said they’ve seen examples of teammates trying to step up, both last fall and during preseason practice. They hope to make further progress before the season opens Feb. 19 at Fresno State.
“Guys are trying,” third baseman Harrison Crawford said. “I think our camaraderie and chemistry as a team has us pulling in the same direction this year. We have some clear-cut leaders.
“We have some guys that are trying to guide people in the right direction. There were times last year when we were kind of tugging and pulling, but we don’t seem to have that now. We’re all pulling in the same direction.”
Shortstop Nicky Lopez agrees.
“I think everyone is just buying into the system,” he said. “Coach always says that we have a good system, and if you buy in it’s going to work out. I don’t know if last year and the year before we bought in totally.
“Now we’re really focused. Although we’re all a year older, we can’t assume we’re just going to be better. I think we all know we have to work on the things that are going to make us better, and that includes having better leadership with this group.”
Creighton’s roster includes 11 seniors and a half-dozen juniors who all have seen plenty of action over the course of their careers.
In Servais’ mind, those veterans need to set a tone similar to ones he’s seen in the past from some of his better teams. He remembers the 2005 team that refused to let a series of crippling injuries deny it from reaching regional play.
In 2011, Servais leaned heavily on a group of seniors that included Trever Adams and Jimmy Swift. That team won both the Missouri Valley regular-season and tournament championships, played in the regional at Oregon State and finished with 45 victories.
“Between Trever and Jimmy, they ruffled some feathers,” Servais said. “It didn’t bother them for a moment. A lot of guys don’t want to ruffle feathers.
“I keep reminding our players now that they’re not offending teammates, but trying to make them better. Sometimes we have to bark a little bit to get guys better.”
The Bluejays say they have guys capable of filling such a role. Others guys are more willing to try a more subtle approach.
“I try to inspire other guys to do it,” said second baseman Ryan Fitzgerald, a three-year starter. “I’m more of a quiet leader, not much a rah-rah guy.
“When it’s needed, I can bring it out, but I like to see other guys do it.”
When asked which player on this year’s team might be closest to the kind of leaders Adams and Swift were in 2011, Servais didn’t hesitate naming Fitzgerald.
“He’s got that little game face going all the time,” Servais said. “He’s got a hockey background and he’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. He’s a little edgy, and I’d like to see a few more guys get like that.”
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