Baseball looking to surprise opponents in 2008
March 7, 2008
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
For Benedictine University head coach John Ostrowski, the only certain thing about the 2008 season is the uncertainty that comes along with new faces and people playing new positions. And then there is the Eagles’ youth, as Benedictine sports a roster with just six seniors out of the 49 roster players to open the campaign.
About the only thing for sure is that Ostrowski – who is beginning his 36th season at the BU helm – will reach the 800-victory plateau in his coaching career sometime in 2008. The veteran Eagles field general enters 2008 with a record of 799-630-15, making No. 800 a virtual foregone conclusion.
The fact that Benedictine will likely not have more than two position players starting in the same spot in which they finished the 2007 (16-21-1) season, is not a concern to the venerable Ostrowski. In fact, he is very excited about the potential of having some players shift over to positions that are more natural for them and blending them with some talented new faces. The key, according to Ostrowski, has been the leadership and pre-season efforts put in by the Eagles thus far.
“We have had a tremendous work ethic in the off-season,” said Ostrowski. “And also after practice, up in the weight room, we have guys doing the extra things to make us a better ball club.”
However, Ostrowski also knows that there is another ingredient necessary for this year’s team to reverse the trend of three-straight losing seasons, after Eagles’ teams had gone 18 consecutive years (1987-2004) above the .500 plateau.
“It still boils down to quality players,” explained Ostrowski in regards for what it will take for BU to return to its winning form. “There is no doubt about it. You can still have a pretty good season without leadership if you have quality players.
“But I like to think that we have the best of both worlds. My goal is to certainly turn this thing around this year.”
Two of the players around which Ostrowski is pinning his hopes for 2008 are a pair of junior transfer outfielders, Kenny Burdi (Glendale Heights, Ill./Lake Park H.S.) and Matthew Brewer (Brookfield, Ill./Lyons Township H.S.). Burdi and Brewer are expected to start in right and center field, respectively.
“(Burdi and Brewer) will bat in the middle of our order,” said Ostrowski. “They should give us a better offensive presence than we’ve had the last couple of years.”
Burdi joined Benedictine after two seasons at Kishwaukee Community College. Burdi was the first player drafted in the 49th round – the 1,412th pick overall – in the 2007 June free agent draft, taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Brewer, who came to the Eagles’ roster by way of the College of DuPage, has stood out not only with his baseball skills, but by his leadership, as well. Brewer has impressed his teammates so much so, that he has the distinction of being the only first-year BU player ever named captain in Ostrowski’s 36 seasons.
In left field, returning sophomore Kevin Graham (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee H.S.) and freshman Kyle Rathbun (Palos Heights, Ill./Shepard H.S.) are battling for the starting nod. Graham made 17 starts late in 2007 with a .323 batting average.
At first base, sophomore Kevin Ross (Lake Zurich, Ill./Lake Zurich H.S.) has the inside track after making eight starts – with 35 at-bats and a .343 average –primarily as a designated hitter during his freshman season. Brewer will also likely see some work at first, especially for late inning defensive purposes, according to Ostrowski.
Second base will be occupied by last season’s shortstop, senior Kyle Bergman (Chicago Ridge, Ill./Richards H.S.). Bergman led the team in both doubles (11) and triples (3) and hit .329 in 140 at-bats. While injury necessitated moving Bergman to shortstop, Ostrowski feels that second base is a more natural position for him and expects him to have an even more productive season in 2008.
Senior Nick Rice (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) is slated to be at third base after suffering a season-ending arm injury in 2007, after starting the first 10 games. Rice has been brought along slowly, said Ostrowski, and is expected to be ready at the “hot corner” for the Eagles’ opener. Another of Ostrowski’s talented newcomers – freshman Bobby Voss (St. Louis, Mo./DeSmet H.S.) – appears to have the nod at shortstop after an impressive series of fall workouts and has “some great athletics skills,” according to Ostrowski.
The designated hitter will be a familiar face from two seasons ago, junior Rick Porcaro (Tinley Park, Ill./St. Rita H.S.). Porcaro missed the entire 2007 season due to injury after a sophomore season in which he batted .296 and had a team-leading 13 doubles. He started 39 of the team’s 41 games played in 2006.
Behind the plate, a pair of sophomores are battling for the call as the primary receiver. Brendan Keane (Oak Forest, Ill./Marian Catholic H.S.) is another player who seized his opportunity as a freshman, making 13 starts (and 15 appearances) late in the year and has “excellent defensive skills.” Anthony Carioscia was relegated to mostly pinch-hitting or DH duties as a freshman, making six appearances after an early season arm injury hampered him.
Ostrowski’s pitching staff returns several key hurlers from 2007, with a few others hoping that they have overcome health issues and can contribute in ’08. After graduating their top two pitchers from last year, the Eagles are hoping that sophomore Dave Flott (Hoffman Estates, Ill./Driscoll Catholic H.S.) has overcome the arm injury that cut his year short in ’07. Flott had a 2-0 record with two complete games and an earned run average of 2.18 in 20.2 innings before being shelved.
“We have brought him along in stages,” said Ostrowski of Flott’s rehabilitation. “It would be a great addition to the team to have a healthy Dave Flott.”
Likewise, James Callahan (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South H.S.) saw some action late after missing most of the early season with an arm injury, striking out 10 and walking just three opponents. Sophomore John Ready (Chicago, Ill./Brother Rice H.S.) got a chance to appear in five games on the varsity level and went 2-0 (5.40 ERA) in 15.0 innings on the mound.
A pair of freshmen – Jake Thompson (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove H.S.) and Matt Strle (Justice, Ill./Argo Community H.S.) – will also vie for turns among Ostrowski’s starting four or five pitchers.
The bullpen is one area that doesn’t seem to cause any consternation for Ostrowski. Anchored by lefthander Shaun Wheeler (Houston, Tex./Dobie H.S.) and righty Dan Vincenti (Downers Grove, Ill./St. Francis H.S.), both seniors, the Eagles seem to be long on arms for relief work. Sophomore Dan Jedlowski (Chicago, Ill./St. Laurence H.S.) had a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings as a freshman and heads a large contingent of young faces that add depth to the pitching staff.
Also in the mix for relief work are sophomores Keith Haglund (Algonquin, Ill./Jacobs H.S.), Kennedy Grear (Carol Stream, Ill./Bartlett H.S.) and transfer Tommy Anselmo (Lisle, Ill./Benet Academy). Freshman Kip Simmerman (Phoenix, Ariz./Seton Catholic H.S.) has also caught Ostrowski’s eye in the early going.
“We play a very tough schedule,” said Ostrowski. “Pitching will be key for us. I have deliberately scheduled some top Division III teams, since our conference does not yet have the automatic qualifier and going to the NCAA tournament is always our goal. Even the quality of the teams in our own league makes the schedule tough, tough, tough! With back-to-back, nine inning doubleheaders in league, it may be ‘last man standing’.”
“I see us being better this year,” summarized Ostrowski. “Our pitching can make or break us.
“We may just surprise a few people this year.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.