The Florida A&M baseball team is gearing up to start the season Friday, Feb. 15 at the 12th annual Andre Dawson Classic. This year, despite a disappointing end to last season after a loss to Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC tournament, the Rattlers still have big goals for this season.
“We’re excited, we're excited about getting out there and seeing what we got,” said Head Coach Jamey Shouppe. “We feel like every year we got a chance to win and be in first place but you gotta go out there and prove it on the field.”
Last year the Rattlers finished the season 25-30 and placed second in the Southern Division behind 2018 MEAC champions North Carolina A&T.
Heading into this season, Shouppe knows the level of competition has increased within the conference. Since he became FAMU’s head coach, the Rattlers have been able to average around 15 conference wins in his 5-season tenure. However, despite that being a solid conference record, they have only won the MEAC twice in the past five seasons which shows the level of competition they have faced thus far.
“The MEAC this season in the Southern Division is as good as it's ever been. Every year the conference Is getting better,” said Shouppe. “Our preseason ranking is something we’ll use as ammunition for this team because we feel we're better than that.”
The MEAC has the Rattlers in their annual 2019 preview as finishing third in the Southern Division, however, the Rattlers have been working out their kinks from last season in preparation. Their major issue was, in fact, their defensive play.
Shouppe uses a quote from Russell Wilson, QB for the Seattle Seahawks to inspire his players saying, “Ignore the noise.”
As starting RHP Josh Wilson said, “With the negativity coming from something or someone else you can't let that negativity to get to us. Being third in the MEAC Southern Division is an insult, but we’ll prove everyone wrong this year.”
Wilson has a lot of pressure on him as he will be the starting pitcher in the Rattlers debut. He said that his goal for this season is to be able to go further in ball games and attack the strike zone, which in turn helps the bullpen.
Shouppe detailed how during the offseason, defense was one of the focal points because during the 2018 season the Ratters did not perform consistently on the defensive side of the ball, showcased by the Rattlers having four players with double-digit errors last season.
The “anchor” for this years in-field is senior third baseman out of Rickards High School, Kaycee Reese. Even though Reece was second on the team in errors with 16, during the teams fall 2018 schedule Reese was a clear standout as he had several defensive stops and highlight plays in the hot corner.
Reese was selected to the 2019 All-MEAC second-team along with Ccnter fielder Willis McDaniel. McDaniel is also a big part of this year's defense and it is known across the team and from the mouth of his coach, he is the leader in the outfield.
“It means a lot, I try my best every inning to help out and take away as many hits and runs as possible,” said McDaniel.
During the Rattlers fall 2018 schedule, they displayed not only their defensive prowess, but their hitting power, qualities they hope to transfer over into the regular season. They begin the season against fellow HBCU and SWAC rival Southern, on Feb. 15 in Louisiana.
It will be their game against Eastern Kentucky that is the highlight of the classic though, as that game will be nationally televised live on the MLB network and MLB.com.