With preparation for the upcoming baseball season already in full-swing, a surprise bomb was dropped upon the team, as head coach Dustin Glant announced that he was leaving to take a position as pitching coach at Ball State University, effective immediately.
The news sent shockwaves reverberating through the team and left many on campus wondering how this would impact such a promising young team.
“Honestly, I was pretty upset,” explained shortstop Nick Butcher when asked how he felt when he received the news. “Just when it seemed like everything was falling perfectly into place, our whole world changed again.”
As a result of Glant leaving, the baseball team will now be led by two interim co-head coaches, Drew Brantley and Mark Calder. Brantley, a 2015 graduate of AU, was a member of the 2012 HCAC All-Tournament Team while playing for the Ravens. He served as a student assistant under Coach David Pressley before serving as a graduate assistant to Glant last season. Calder was the director of baseball operations for the 2016 season.
Once the suddenness of Glant’s departure had passed, there was relief in the naming of Brantley and Calder as interim co-head coaches.
“I couldn’t be any happier about the decision,” said Butcher. “They are both unbelievable coaches and we are very fortunate to have them leading us into the season.”
Brantley is excited to take over the season, placing the focus on the players. “This year is going to be about the 41 guys on the team. Such a big change right before the season started created a hump. Getting over that hump was a big deal.” He explained that getting over the initial shock created a huge sense of brotherhood and community amongst the players on the team. “If they can get through that,” he said, “it doesn’t matter who is in charge.”
There has been a lot of excitement surrounding the upcoming season, as the young and talented Ravens team looks to improve on their 16-21 record of last season. The four highest batting averages from last season return, as Butcher, Augdan “Auggie” Wilson, Isaac Turner and Branton Sanders will be key members of the lineup. Many of the top arms are back in the rotation and bullpen as Brian Page, John Becker and Lane Hanzel return.
Of the 41 players on the roster, 32 are freshmen. The development of the returners from last season and the incoming freshmen has been “night and day,” a development Butcher credits to Glant changing the culture of the baseball program.
Many of the same player development methods implemented will remain in Glant’s absence. “The development of our guys has been amazing,” explained Brantley. They’ve reached an extremely high level. As far as our methods of development go, we’re going to keep things about the same.” Some minor tweaks may be made as the staff sees fit, but operations will remain under the same conditions.
With so many freshmen on the roster, many will play huge pieces in the lineup and rotation. “A lot of our success will depend upon the maturation of our freshmen and how consistent they can be,” said Brantley. He added that the upperclassmen have been a huge blessing as they have mentored many of the young freshmen, showing them the ropes of AU baseball.
“The biggest thing that we took away from last year was that we had preached ‘hit the ball hard’ all year long,” Brantley explained. “When we weren’t hitting the ball hard, we didn’t have a backup plan.” This made it difficult for the Ravens to move runners over and manufacture runs. An added emphasis throughout the fall and winter has been the team having a complete offensive game rather than a reliance on hitting doubles and home runs.
Instead, Brantley and the rest of the staff are looking for consistency as they head into their season opener against Baldwin Wallace, a regional foe with a much older roster than the Ravens.
With so many players on the team, Brantley is hopeful that inconsistency can be avoided in the lineup. The deep roster will allow for many pieces to fill many moving parts. Stability can be provided by the upperclassmen leaders while the freshmen provide a variety of options.
While Brantley did admit that he was overwhelmed at first by the transition, he is now thrilled to take over his new post. “I want to go out there and have fun with these guys every single day,” he said. “Be it practice, a game, or an off day, I’m looking forward to grinding with the team this season.”
Part of Brantley’s excitement stems from his ability to take over a historic program that has been led by names like Carl Erskine and Don Brandon. At the young age of 24, this is quite an opportunity. “I love the guys and this program. We have a rich history and tradition. I bleed black and orange,” he said. “This is where I want to be.”