The baseball diamond behind Neptune Apartments had a busy morning last Saturday ahead of the homecoming football game. Several dozen baseball players suited up for a practice scrimmage while others raked the turf to spread the moisture brought by the rain of the night before.
Andrew Robineau sat in the bleachers behind home plate with his clipboard, organizing the line ups and teams ahead of the scrimmage.
Even though UCF club baseball will not be playing this first regular season match until February, the team is preparing to improve from last season, when they made it to the national championship but lost to East Carolina University 1-0 in extra innings.
For Robineau, the team’s treasurer and third baseman, participating in the National Club Baseball Association Division I World Series in Holly Springs, North Carolina, a first in the team’s 15-year history, was an incredible experience.
“Seeing your team be at the highest level, at the world series, that is something special,” the senior sports and exercise science major said. “Seeing the recognition that we got from fans and even alumni reaching out to us and showing their appreciation for honoring our school at the highest level — it was an honor.”
The team also endured some unexpected heckling and yelling from ECU's fans.
Frankie Graf, the second baseman, knew UCF was the away team – ECU is only an hour and a half away from Holly Springs – but he said he could not believe they were being heckled.
“It was tough to focus, but it was really cool,” Graf, a senior business major, said. “Major Leaguers are usually the guys who get heckled at, not the club baseball teams. It was aggravating but at the same time it was like, ‘Wow, they’re actually heckling us.’”
Preston Stephens, a senior business management major who has played for the team since his sophomore year, went into the game leading the team in batting average and was a target of the crowd's jeers.
“I was playing third base that game so I was right next to the fans,” Stephens said. “They were looking me up on Facebook and saying some pretty obscene things about my mom and my girlfriend.”
Robineau was the team’s president last season, a position equivalent to a manager. The club baseball team does not have a coach, which left Robineau to run the team along with the rest of his executive board. The executive board consists of five members who all help manage the team, he said.
"We don’t have a head coach that makes game decisions. We schedule and run practices, we implement skill progression, things like that," Robineau said.
A public relations officer position was created this year and is held by Graf.
“With all the work the sports club office gives us, it’s hard to divvy up among four guys,” Graf said. “We all have schedules outside of club baseball – four classes each, some guys are in other clubs, some of us have part-time jobs.”
Still, the team has grown considerably over the years. In February, the club will have two teams, with the second participating in Division II. Stephens, the team’s risk manager, credits that to past leadership, including that of Robineau, who he said “changed the culture of the team.”
“We had a lot of talent on the team my sophomore year, but we had some attitude issues and problems with cliques,” Stephens said. “We didn’t have good team chemistry. We had less talent last year to be honest, but our chemistry helped get us to second.”
Graf, who joined the team in his freshman year, said he has also seen the club grow from having a “lackadaisical” mindset to being national contenders. The team’s growing size, he said, only demonstrates that change.
“That’s an example of how serious and competitive we are since my freshman year,” he said. “We have 40-something guys here now and our freshman year we were at the low-30s.”
The players are unlike their counterparts in the NCAA. They do not play on scholarship nor will they have many opportunities, if at all, to play in the majors after they graduate.
To Robineau, however, that makes their experience all the more special.
“Being able to play the game that we love for four more years — that there says it all,” said Robineau, who works as a substitute teacher in Orange County and hopes to eventually get into coaching. "That’s the beauty of club baseball: Nobody has an ulterior motive; we’re all here for the love of the game. That is something special.”
But until graduation comes, the team has one mission: To win the world series.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush, it was demoralizing,” Stephens said of last season’s loss. “But it is what it is; you win some you lose some. [ECU] just got the hit when they needed to get the hit, but that’s just extra motivation to get to where we need to get this year and finish the job.”