Team bonding, hard work, and good vibes are fostering winning baseball, something KU hasn’t seen for nearly a decade
By Gavin Riley
KU baseball has had a stretch of unsatisfactory seasons. 2014 was when their last full-winning season was. The team, coached by Chris Blum at the time, ended with a 32-21 record that year and was crowned champions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) division. Since then, Golden Bear baseball has compiled an abysmal 116-196 record. However, this season has been different. Great efforts have invited inserted the team back into relevance and now, KU stands at 23-13 and is seeking a return to PSAC playoffs.
The change started with a coaching change in 2019. Current head coach Eric Folmar took over for Blum, who was fired in 2019 after 17 seasons with the team. Folmar, since then, hasn’t had the most desirable start to his tenure. His first season with the team in 2020 was cut short due to Covid-19. He had the team at 7-4 before the cancellation of the remainder of the season.
“When I got here in the fall, it was a great opportunity for us to feel each other out and implement what we wanted to do on and off the field,” Folmar said. “Obviously once we got to the spring, it got shut down”.
The whole PSAC division was dealing with the same issue. But for a team with a new head coach and a large class of freshmen coming in, the cancellation was a major setback.
“It made it tougher for the next year because we didn’t have a fall,” Folmar said. “We had a big class coming in that was young and we were in a place where we couldn’t do anything.”
Upon return from a canceled season in 2020, Folmar and KU baseball ended with a 17-21 record. The 2022 season was no different. The Golden Bears produced a deplorable 11-35 record.
However, in the midst of his fourth season with the team, Folmar and the Golden Bears are all of a sudden in the hunt for the playoffs. Graduate student Mitchell Peers credits the flipped switch to a sit-down meeting in the fall.
“I think the big thing was that when we came back in the fall, our coach held a meeting, basically sat everyone down, and went over last year,” Peers said. “He basically said ‘This is the last time we’re going to be talking about last year’ and just went into the details of what we could have done better. From that day forward, the team really came together and started bonding.”
While it was Folmar’s impromptu meeting that brought life to a distraught team, he was quick to credit the team’s success to the guys on the field.
“It’s our guys. Our guys have bought in, worked extremely hard, and have just gotten after it,” Folmar said. “We’ve got great leaders, and they push everybody to be the players they can be on and off the field.”
“Coach incorporated a lot of new things A lot more team bonding and chemistry building activities,” Peers said. “Guys really just started meshing more, and I think that was the key factor.”
“It’s absolutely awesome to be part of this group,” senior Dominic Proietto said. “We play with a bunch of passion and, a bunch of energy. The vibe right now is that we’re a family.”
The development of the team’s chemistry ties back to those activities. With that growth came no hesitation to motivate. One player who has really enjoyed this new perspective taken to this is junior outfielder Ethan Martini.
Martini entered the Division II college baseball scene on a strong note in 2021, slashing .349/.431/.508 with three home runs as a freshman. However, the following season — his sophomore season — consisted of substandard at-bats. His success at the plate disappeared and he ended the year hitting .214/.314/.320.
“Freshman year I was looking forward to getting in, getting some playing time,” Martini said. “Sophomore year I got kind of lazy, I thought I could just show up and do it again, which set me back tremendously. I didn’t work as hard as I did freshman year.”
Entering his junior season, Martini realized that this career is short. He wanted to make the most of it. He has been the fulcrum of the Golden Bear’s accomplishments in his third season with the team. His newly found success is a result of a sedulous off-season, one that now has him flourishing for the Golden Bears. Martini is currently hitting .372/.443/.679 with eight home runs and 39 RBI in 137 plate appearances.
“I went into the winter thinking ‘attack the mental side’. Just try to make everything smaller than it is,’” Martini said. “From a training aspect, just a simple getting in the batting cage, getting in the weight room as much as I can. I realized that I have to work for everything I want.”
The team’s achievements have doubters surprised. However, it didn’t matter that there was little support outside of the team, because the team supported each other.
“If you didn’t support us then, that’s fine. We’ll support each other and ourselves,” Proietto said.