The Butler baseball team will have its first games this weekend in North Carolina, officially kicking off its first season in the Big East Conference.
The Bulldogs will face off against Wright State, Saint Joseph’s, University of Albany and Canisius over the course of three days, starting Friday.
Mother Nature has not made preparing for a second conference change in two seasons easy, however.
Because of the weather, the team has been forced to change its practice schedule and only practice inside.
Even with these setbacks, junior pitcher Eric Stout said the team is excited to get started.
“(Practices) have been going great,” Stout said. “One of the biggest issues to deal with is obviously the snow. The first time we are going to put on our cleats is going to be in North Carolina. So that’s a little difficult.
“But we’ve just been dealing with just odd practices times, and we’re just doing the best we can with the facilities that we have.”
The Bulldogs will also have to adjust to new competition in the Big East, starting April 4, against Seton Hall.
The Big East features seven schools with baseball programs. Butler was picked to finish tied for sixth in the conference in a recent coaches’ poll, while fellow conference newcomer Creighton was tabbed to finish first.
Despite this, coach Steve Farley, who is entering his 23rd season as the team’s head coach, said in an email that he still has high expectations for his squad.
“Other than Xavier, Butler baseball has never played another game against a current Big East school,” Farley said. “We aren’t sure what to expect. Teams like Creighton, Seton Hall and St. John’s stand out as programs which have been consistent winners in past years.”
Farley said the team’s goal is to finish in the top four in the league and qualify for the conference tournament.
Farley said he hopes the weather does not stop any of the team’s games this season and added that he thinks the four games in North Carolina will be a good test to start the season.
“We’ll compete against a good variety of teams,” Farley said. “The opener against Wright State will be an excellent challenge, as they have always been one of the top teams in the Horizon League.”
Stout said he views the Big East as a better baseball conference than the Atlantic 10. The Bulldogs went 12-12 in conference play last season, finishing outside the A-10 tournament.
“I think we’re ready,” Stout said. “We’ve got a great team, great guys, a lot of young guys. So we’re transitioning, and I think it’s going to go pretty well.”
Stout, a 6-3 left-hander, was named to the preseason All-Big East team, something he called a great honor. However, he said, he realizes the team is more important than the individual.
“If we, as a team, have success, then individuals will have success. So we’re looking to surprise some teams in the Big East and make a huge impact.”
Stout added that the team uses the low preseason ranking as motivation.
“The same thing happened last year with the A-10,” he said. “I think we were picked second to last in the A-10, and now we are tied for last (with Villanova).
“Preseason rankings aren’t everything, but it’s definitely a lot of motivation to prove people wrong.”