Date: March 10, 2000


Potential is a loaded word, but the Tufts University baseball team is loaded with it as the Jumbos enter the 2000 season. A group of talented, but inexperienced new starters joins a core of trusted veterans as head coach John Casey's team sets out to prove that last spring's non-playoff campaign was an aberration.

The Jumbos are solid defensively, but will have to prove they can hit and pitch well enough to win consistently. The uncertainty of how the team's talent will perform once the season starts leaves the coaching staff unsure as to where the Jumbos will fit into the New England Region picture this season. Tufts won its final nine games a year ago, but was not selected to the ECAC Tournament. That stopped a seven-year streak of going to the post-season, so the Jumbos are focused on returning to the playoffs this May.

The Y2K Jumbos will be led by senior captain Zack Brown (Melrose, MA), sophomore RF Dan Callahan (Medfield, MA), junior C Joe Surprenant (Tewksbury, MA) and senior SS Mike Gray (Teaneck, NJ). Brown will be the ace of the pitching staff and play second base, where he was a New England All-Star last spring. He was 3-4 with a 4.74 earned run average and hit .430 last season. Callahan, who batted a dazzling .413 as freshman last season, is a proven hitter who will have to adjust to tougher pitches this season. Surprenant and Gray are the backbone of the team's defense, and any offense they can provide will be a bonus.

            The rest of the Jumbos will need to fill big holes vacated by CF Dan Morse, 1B Pat Fernan and 3B John Flack on offense, and Matt Marengi and Jon Mugar on the hill. The emergence of a few upperclassmen and the progress of an exciting freshman class could go a long way towards answering many of those questions.

            Nick Svencer (Mystic, CT) and sophomore Steve Lapham (Newburyport, MA) will follow Brown in the pitching rotation. The 6-3, 200-pound Svencer (3-3, 5.06, team-high 35 Ks in '99) could be the key, possessing two pitches good enough to give Tufts a strong 1-2 combination. Lapham (2-2, 5.83) throws hard and is expected to make big strides in his second season. Freshman Dave Martin (Arlington, MA), whose ability is comparable to the team's top pitchers of recent years according to Casey, and classmate Jonathan Lee (Manhasset Hills, NY) will answer calls to the bullpen and take on spot starting duty. Senior Mike Saucier (Dracut, MA) could rebound from a sore arm to help out. Callahan and freshman Brian Shapiro (Swampscott, MA), both likely to start in the field, are wild cards on the pitching staff.

Sophomore lefty Tim Ayres (Irvine, CA) takes over for Fernan at first base and should provide power, especially at home where right field measures 311 feet down the line. He hit .371 in 35 at bats last spring. Casey also hopes for production from his outfield. Callahan hit like a veteran all last season, leading the team with 52 hits, 41 runs and four triples. Nearly half of junior LF Todd Boutwell's (Woburn, MA) 16 hits went for extra bases last spring, including three home runs. He was hampered by hamstring injuries and could be ready for a break-out season. Senior Josh Marks (Tucson, AZ) and freshman Evan Zupancic (Lake Oswego, OR), who will compete for time in center field, are both good bat-men. The four outfielders will also do most of the team's running.

Shapiro only recently began practicing after playing basketball for the Jumbos and earning New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Rookie of the Year. The Massachusetts Division 2 Player of the Year at Swampscott last spring, he could take the third base job outright. Casey has options at second when Brown is pitching. Junior Corey Dolich (Alameda, CA) is a good bat (3 HR last season), junior Kevin Marrotta (Rockfall, CT) is a good glove, and veteran Jon Cole (Sudbury, MA) and freshman Jon Herbert (Davidsonville, MD) are also options at second or third. Each should expect to see time as the season progresses.

            As usual, perennial powers Eastern Connecticut and Southern Maine are the pre-season favorites in New England. Trinity is the team to beat in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), according to Casey. The Jumbos play a difficult spring trip schedule, including a date with defending national champion North Carolina Wesleyan on March 23. Tufts opens its New England schedule at Bentley on March 29, then takes Huskins Field for the first time on April 1 in a double-header with Bates.

"All we care about right now is Randolph-Macon," Casey said, referring to the team's season-opener on March 17. "We're not looking ahead, we're just gonna play the day. It's my job to put the young guys into good situations where they can be successful. If they can build some confidence, then we should be alright."