Brandon Eckerle and the Michigan State Spartan baseball team are off to a hot start in 2011.
Brandon Eckerle and the Michigan State Spartan baseball team are off to a hot start in 2011.

“Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” Although these words from the mouth of Yogi Berra may give your 9th grade math teacher a stress headache, they do ring true of America’s national pastime. And never has this saying been more true than if it was used to describe the current Michigan State Spartan baseball team.

The Spartans are currently 17-7 overall and sitting atop the Big Ten standings. This team hasn’t won in a manner most would assume, with homerun hitters in the middle of the order producing run after run. Instead they’ve put together their runs with more of a National League “small ball” type of strategy. Using singles, doubles, and smart base-running the Spartans have managed to put together one of the most impressive starts for MSU baseball in recent memory.

The Spartans currently have the top two hitters by average in the Big Ten right now with Brandon Eckerle (.431) and Jeff Holm (.396). But the team doesn’t have a single player with more than 3 homeruns so far this season. This Spartan team may not be full of mashers, but they know how to get the job done.

The Spartans also boast a strong pitching staff this season, with three pitchers all sporting ERAs under 3. Kurt Wunderlich has been especially impressive so far this season, with a 2.23 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 44 1/3 innings. His ERA is currently the second best in the conference and at 5-1 is tied for the best record in the conference with his teammate Tony Bucciferro. If the Spartans can keep up this strong pitching and smart offense, this team is well on its way to a Big Ten title in 2011.

The Spartans success this season must be chalked up to the outstanding work done by Jake Boss with this program. The best teams are those that take on the mentality of their coach. Boss has shown throughout his time at Michigan State a strong determination to bring a conference title home to East Lansing, and this team has bought into that. This can be best illustrated by the Spartans’ 5-4 win over Michigan on March 27. The Spartans got down early in that game, but took on their coach’s tough mentality and battled throughout the game until finally taking the lead in the 7th inning and never giving it back. That kind of mental toughness is what is needed to win a championship in any sport, but in baseball it’s absolutely necessary. One bad pitch can result in a quick 1-0, 2-0, or 3-0 deficit, and some teams may fold after falling behind early. But to be a champion, you have to battle through all nine innings, and simply forget what happened early in the game. This MSU team has shown that they can do that, and that is a great sign heading into the rest of this season.

Michigan State may or may not win the Big Ten championship this season, but with intelligent play and great coaching this team is setting the table for many successful years to come.

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