Inside Louisville baseball: Weekly notebook

Dan McDonnell

The official start of the college baseball season is Friday, as the University of Louisville team will hold a practice at Jim Patterson Stadium. Cardinal Authority has a baseball notebook on the eve of the start of the season.

BASEBALL AMERICA RANKS CARDS NO. 4

The University of Louisville baseball team has earned its highest ranking ever on Thursday, ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll by Baseball America.

The Cardinals were ranked just behind No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 Arkansas. U of L is the only Big East school in the top 25.

The Cardinals have now been ranked in a preseason top 25 poll for the sixth consecutive season under the direction of head coach Dan McDonnell.

Baseball America gave the Cardinals a ton of high praise in the write up about each team they produced for the poll saying:

"The Cardinals reached a regional final at eventual national champion Arizona last year, and anything short of their first trip to Omaha since 2007 will be a disappointment this spring. This team is a legitimate championship contender."

CARDS RANKED NO. 15 IN ANOTHER POLL

The Cardinals were also ranked No. 15 in the Perfect Game Preseason top 25. U of L was tabbed No. 22 in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper Fabulous 40 poll.

North Carolina is ranked No. 1 and Arkansas No. 2 in the Perfect Game poll.

PLAYERS ‘CHOMPING AT THE BIT'

After working throughout the offseason, including the last three weeks in individual position groups, Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell said his players are ready to get things going for real.

"The kids are chomping at the bit," McDonnell said. "You start way back in the summer and we've had a good summer and fall. They've done a great job in the weigh room and the classroom. But they're ready to go."

The Cardinals won't have to wait much longer.

Louisville is able to hold its first practice of the season as a full squad on Friday at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals will begin preparing for the season then, according to McDonnell.

"It's just such an exciting time of the year," he said.

Louisville will open the season on Feb. 15 against Indiana in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge in Dunedin, Fla. U of L will play three games in Florida that weekend before returning for the home opener on Feb. 20 against Eastern Kentucky.

CARDS HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE

McDonnell said the program has embraced the lofty expectations heading into the season and noted his staff has been here before.

"This is very similar to 2010," McDonnell said. "We went to Omaha (College World Series) in '07 and lost all of those seniors. We got beat up a bit in '08 but we won the Big East and ended up getting to the Georgia Regional.

"In ‘09 we go to Super Regional at Cal State Fullerton and then ‘10 was supposed to be the year. We win 50 games and are a national seed. Only two schools had more players (drafted) than we did – Arizona State and UCLA. That was the year we were going to Omaha and then we got wiped out by the draft and lost all those guys.

"In '11 the bats changed and we were young and just didn't adapt well and then in '12 we bounced back. Now it's year three. All those guys who were freshmen and beat up (in '11) are now juniors and they have experience.

"But that's the thing about baseball, you have to throw them out there. I don't get Eli Manning for five years in baseball, I get him for three. You have to throw them out there, deal with the tough times and hope there's not many of them. But you hope to benefit, like we are this year. We're getting a lot of the hype because of the junior class and those are the guys that had to play as freshmen."

STADIUM RENOVATION CLOSE TO COMPLETE

The massive expansion to Jim Patterson Stadium is expected to be complete by the Feb. 20 home opener for the Cardinals.

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said on Wednesday that the renovation "will be ready" for the home opener. McDonnell said there could be a few touch-up details still going on but he's "so excited" to show off the new digs.

The expansion project has increased the number of chair back seats at Patterson Stadium to 3,000 while increasing the overall seating capacity to over 4,000. The $4 million project makes the stadium among the top 30 largest ballparks in the nation and the biggest in the Big East Conference.

The project also includes a 6,400-square-foot terrace accessible from the chair-back seats and a two-tiered ground level terrace extending from the first and third base dugouts. The press box will also be doubled in size, while there will also be a visiting team clubhouse behind the third-base dugout.

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