Is this Heaven? No, it's a baseball field plopped down into the middle of a college campus.
HamsterDAHM (affectionately named after our gossip section Hamsterdam), is a weekly Iowa baseball roundup with all sorts of goodies for all the children to enjoy. I listen to most, if not all their games on the radio when applicable here from Florida, as well as following along on gametracker, and getting to see them 5-7 times when they head south in the early spring. So yes, the University of Iowa still has a baseball team and surprisingly to most, they're gonna be pretty good.*
(*Disclaimer: don't call your bookies, they may not.)
And today, we shall break down and preview the 2013 season.
The Iowa baseball team opens their season Feb 15-18 @ Austin Peay, a 2012 NCAA Tournament qualifier.
Last Season: 23-27 overall, 10-14 conference, finishing a game out of the final playoff spot, 6th place in the B1G.
Head Coach: Jack Dahm (10th season at Iowa)
--In now his 10th year as manager of the Hawks, Dahm has brought notoriety back to the program among the Big Ten baseball conference. Iowa has won 30 or more games in two of the last six seasons, and if you do the math, they're due for another this year. Dahm won over 280 games for Creighton before coming to Iowa City after the 03 season, and has since notched nearly 500 career victories as a Division I skipper (currently sits at 496 wins). A timeless philosophy of "small ball", filled with bunts, hit & runs and steals, coupled with outstanding fundamental defense is the mainstay of the Iowa baseball program. Off the field, Dahm has produced one of the more outstanding class-Hawks in quite some time. Iowa baseball players boasted a NCAA Graduation of 95, which is 25 points above the national average for Division I baseball programs. A team-record 12 players in 2011 were named to the academic All-Big Ten team.
Catcher: Dan Sheppard (projected starter), Keith Brand, Anthony Torres, 3 others listed
--Sheppard, a senior, will manage the game from behind the plate most of the 2013 season for the Hawks. Plagued by nagging injuries most of his career, he's finally healthy and ready to lead the team through seniority and consistency. Sheppard hit .234 last season, but fielding is where he really stands out. He had a perfect 1.000% fielding percentage in B1G play last season, but most notable he works exceptionally well with the pitching staff. They have the confidence to throw their pitches knowing he's back there. Brand, a junior, started 23 games last year behind the dish which lead the team. He hit .211, but a strong .368 with runners in scoring position.
Infield: Blake Hickman (projected starter 1B), Jake Mangler (projected starter 2B), Jake Yacinich (projected starter SS), Nick Day (projected starter 3B), Bryan Niedbalski, Trevor Kenyon, 4 others listed
--Hickman, a true freshman, is projected to be the opening day starter at first base and was selected in the 20th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. Ranked 212th nationally and 21st positionally, he was ranked the 5th best player in the state of Illinois. Mangler, a sophomore, is projected to be the opening day starter at second base. Started 32 games at 2B last season, while hitting .287, driving in 20 runs, and is currently in the middle of a 10-game hit streak dating back to last season. Yacinich, a sophomore, is the projected opening day starter at shortstop. Started 42 games at SS last season, hit .292, driving in 24 runs, and was a perfect 9-for-9 in steals. He also ranked first in the B1G in sacrifice bunts. The Mangler/Yacinich combo up the middle is truly fun to watch and it seems they have great chemistry as middle-infielders should. Day, a sophomore, is projected to be the opening day starter at third base. Started 8 games last season, all in the outfield. He hit .217 in limited action last year, but was praised by head coach Jack Dahm for his great transition to the hot corner this offseason. All four of Iowa's infielders have 3+ years of baseball in front of them for the Hawks, and have tremendous potential. Niedbalski, will bring a strong bat off the bench in late-game situations for Iowa and the experience that comes with being a 3rd year junior.
Outfield: Kris Goodman, Eric Toole, Taylor Kaufman (projected starters), Taylor Zeutenhorst
--Goodman, a sophomore, will be a first-time full starter in the outfield this season. Started 22 games last season, and shows great glove work making outstanding catches and great range in CF. Incredible wheels once he learns the ins & outs of basestealing. Toole, a sophomore, started 35 games a year ago. He may ring a familiar name to Iowa fans. He is the younger brother of former Iowa standout Justin Toole, who recently gained national notoriety for playing all 9 positions in a game for a minor league team. Another great fielder, he hit .283 last season and a solid .400 with runners in scoring position. Kaufman, a sophomore, has yet to start a game in the field in his Iowa career. He was used as a relief pitcher last season, totaling 22 appearances. Obviously though even if we don't know, coach Dahm certainly does, that this kid can play outfield for a Division I program. Zeutenhorst, a junior, will be the first off the bench and sometimes likely start as well. Made 25 starts last season, slumping a bit all of last year, considering the scorching freshman year this young man had. Should be back on his game this season as a solid hitting outfielder with a strong arm.
Starting Pitching: Sasha Kuebel (projected Friday starter), Matt Dermody (projected Saturday starter), Calvin Mathews (projected Sunday starter)
-- Kuebel, a sophomore, is projected to be the ace of the 2013 Iowa staff. Selected as 2nd team All-Big Ten last year as a freshman, and already slapped onto many "watch" lists this preseason, Kuebel brings great command and change of speeds to his pitching. Went 6-0 with a B1G freshman leading ERA of 2.67, which was good enough for 7th overall in the B1G as well. Dermody, a senior, is projected once again to be the solid #2 option for Iowa this season. He's the returning leader in strikeouts(60), while only allowing 23 walks last season. Tall, at 6'5, with pretty good velocity on his pitches and a downward throwing motion that's very difficult for hitters to pick up. Mathews, a true freshman, is currently projected to be the third starter this year. He won the job apparently just before the first weekly baseball media notes were released, as before there was no 3rd starter mentioned. Not much on the guy other than he was the 82nd best pitching high school recruit in America last season, which is a start. And being the 2012 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year and the Iowa High School Coaches Baseball Player of the Year certainly didn't come easily. The Hawks 2013 starting rotation is one of the more talented in the B1G, the hope is that unlike last season, the offense can come to protect these arms.
Relief Pitching: Andrew Hanse (projected closer), Ryan Rumpf (also team's primary DH), Ricky Sandquist, Nick Hibbing, Aaron Smit, Ben Bergman, Andrew Hedrick, 4 others listed
--Hanse, a senior, is projected to be the 9th inning man for the Hawks in 2013. He appeared in 17 games last year in late inning work, and has really gained the closer's mentality this winter according to Coach Dahm. He's much more focused on getting hitters out, more than trying to "knit-pick" with the batter and strike zone. Rumpf, a sophomore, is projected to be the opening day DH as well as a relief pitcher for Iowa this season. He started 21 games last season as the designated hitter, hitting .247, while making 5 relief appearances pitching without allowing an earned run. Sandquist, a senior, made 7 appearances last season, and is used sparingly as a midweek starter. Hedrick, a sophomore, appeared in 12 games, including 8 spot starts. He finished 2012 with a 2-2 record. Hibbing, a sophomore, made 14 appearances and started one game himself last season. The Iowa bullpen may be their achilles heel this season, as they are young and inexperienced, but the future should be stronger with development.
Overview: Now that you know a little bit about the Hawks on the field in 2013, it's time for them to start to produce and make you not have to look my weekly posts up to remember their names. Iowa isn't known for their baseball program, as we all very well know. But Jack Dahm has something cooking here. The last 6 seasons of Iowa Hawkeyes baseball have been the most competitive in a 6-year span the Hawks have been since the days of Duane Banks (whom the home field of the Hawks is named for, Duane Banks Field, for those who didn't know). I'll be happy to update "HamsterDAHM" weekly as the Iowa baseball team is something I enjoy and would love to have them win a few ballgames and get us talking about them.
As for the result on the field this year, I strongly believe this team can field a top 6 Big Ten team and make the Big Ten tournament. As usual, OMHR (Purdue), Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota are the usual powers this season once again. But Iowa finished strong last season, taking 2 of 3 from the Big Ten leading Boilermakers, and winning 7 of their last 11 overall. In 2010, the Hawks got hot at the right time, reaching the Big Ten Tourney on the last weekend, and making it all the way to the championship game with a trip to the NCAAs on the line before losing to the Gophers. And that squad had the same type of makeup and mentality that this year's does, it's not flashy baseball with long home runs and speed that will kill, it's strictly solid fundamentals and not making mistakes. I think this Iowa baseball team can win 30-35 games and make the tournament, and from there, who knows that will happen. Sure will be a great year to watch.