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The Miami Hurricanes baseball team remembers how crushing it was to have the 2020 season cut off about a week into it due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in America.
“That bus ride back, it just felt surreal,” said utility player JP Gates. “We’re about to go play up in Virginia Tech and get ready to go play a series and, out of nowhere, we’re going back home and not playing ever again — until next year.”
Next year has arrived for UM, which is ranked in the top 15 of three baseball polls. On Friday, the Hurricanes had their first official preseason practice ahead of the season, which begins on Feb. 19 with a three-game series at Florida.
“We’re all super excited,” sophomore catcher Adrian Del Castillo said. “I haven’t played an actual game in about a year almost. I just want to be out there. I’m really happy we’re playing.”
Coach Gino DiMare, after losing a 2020 season that had College World Series aspirations, is looking forward to the prospect of a successful 2021.
“Never in my wildest dreams, or anybody’s, did I think we’d have to cancel a season,” DiMare said. “We felt like we had a really good ball club last year — some of the better starting pitching I think we’ve ever had here. We didn’t get to see it come to fruition.
“But, as everything goes here, life moves on. You have to make adjustments. We’re excited about this year.”
The Hurricanes figure to have a potent lineup with experienced power bats in the heart of the order returning in Del Castillo, junior first baseman Alex Toral and junior third baseman Raymond Gil.
“We think Adrian Del Castillo is arguably one of the best hitters in the country,” DiMare said, “and certainly one of the best hitters we’ve had here — just pure hitters that can hit the ball all over the place. He hits with power, and he’s an RBI machine.”
Already possessing the great swing, Del Castillo spent the offseason working on his catching with Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, a six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner.
Miami, however, will have to find three new weekend starting pitchers after Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon were taken in 2020 1/4 u2032s five-round MLB draft and Brian Van Belle signed with the Boston Red Sox as an undrafted free agent.
Daniel Federman is at the top of the list to take over as a top-of-the-line starter after pitching in various roles over his first three seasons — most recently as UM’s closer.
“I’ve pitched in big games. I have some experience,” said Federman, a junior and Archbishop McCarthy grad. “We have a lot of new guys with a lot of talent. I’m excited to see everybody to step up. We’re going to need everyone to step up.”
Around him, the Hurricanes will still need to find two other weekend starters and one for midweek games in competition that will be settled over the next three weeks.
“Guys that are high on the list are guys like Alex McFarlane and Jake Garland, both guys that have a chance to be those guys,” DiMare said. “You have some new guys that have come in, rookies — got transfer guys like Jake Smith and Jordan Dubberly — and then, of course, we got some young guys as freshmen: Alejandro Rosario, Victor Mederos, Nick Regalado. Those are guys that they’re all competing for four spots.”
Added Federman: “We’ve got a great class of young arms. Alejandro Rosario has some pretty electric stuff, same thing with Victor Mederos. … We’ve just got to see what guys got when it comes to game time.”
Eight of the nine bats in the starting lineup return for Miami, but the Hurricanes could still have new contributors rise.
Freshman Chad Born was named Miami’s MVP of the fall both for the way he swung the bat and played center field. Del Castillo’s older brother, Christian Del Castillo, is a Seton Hall transfer as a fifth-year player that DiMare reports is a “smart, heads-up” player.
Baseball will be played under NCAA COVID protocols. No more than 20 people can be in the dugout together. Some players will be in chairs near the dugout or by the bullpen to spread out. Face coverings need to be worn when around each other in those areas but not when actively playing.
“The most normal thing will be when we play the game on the field,” DiMare said.
DiMare said attendance policies haven’t been finalized but believes around 20 percent capacity will be allowed at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in 2021.