Dust off the diamond

Spring is right around the corner and that means baseball season is about to start.

The Rattler baseball team will open the 2004 season Saturday at noon on Moore-Kittles Field against the Bears of Mercer University.

The Rattlers ended last season with a 9-5 loss to bitter rival Bethune-Cookman College in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. But with six returning starters, the Rattler’s plan to have greater success this year.

Joe Durant, 2003 MEAC Baseball Coach of the Year, and his team have their sights set on two goals: winning the MEAC championship and earning a ticket to the NCAA regional tournament, last visited by the Rattlers in 1994.

“We came close to winning the MEAC last year, but we lost some key players to injury,” Durant said.

“Our goal for the upcoming season is to win 40 games, win the MEAC tournament and advance to the NCAA regional tournament.”

First baseman and co-captain Jay Drayton agreed.

“We did well last year and could have won the MEAC last year had we not been hit by injuries,” Drayton said.

FAMU ended last season with a record of 31-21,their best since 1981, by displaying ultimate dominance at home with a 20-2 record.

The 2004 roster boasts the return of MEAC All-Tournament team member’s infielder Nick Parker and pitcher Mike Sills, both natives of Tallahassee. All-MEAC second team member’s outfielder Todd Rodman and catcher Chris Branning also return this season.

“We have a good team and if we can stay injury free we can win the MEAC,” said Sills, senior co-captain and ace pitcher of the FAMU rotation.

“We lost a good hitter in Eric Bernier, but we should still be strong,”

Pitcher Mike Connell will also return to the starting line-up for the Rattlers after missing last season because of shoulder surgery on a torn rotator cuff.

The Rattler’s will also welcome three transfers to the team this upcoming season: sophomore Jim Beauford, a pitcher from University of South Alabama; junior Chris Lee, an infielder from Tallahassee Community College; and junior Jamil Knight, a pitcher from Shelton Community College.

While Drayton said he is focused on the first game of the season, he said the game he is looking forward to the most is a possible return to the MEAC championship game, where he hopes to battle B-CC again.

Drayton said, “We have made great improvements from last year and right now have a better team.”