Losing seven players from last year’s squad, the IU baseball team certainly needed to reload in a quick fashion if it wanted to improve on last year’s Big Ten Tournament championship.
Fortunately, it didn’t have to look too far to find a talented new pitcher for the 2010 campaign.
Matt Ernest, better known for his contributions as a wide receiver on the football team, joined the baseball team during the off-season – an addition that IU coach Tracy Smith says is already proving beneficial.
“Athletically, he brings some stuff we really don’t have,” Smith said. “Quite honestly, we’re short on arms, but he’s one of the legitimate power arms we have.”
Already, Smith says, Ernest is pitching upwards of 90 mph off the mound despite not playing baseball since his senior year of high school in Crown Point, Ind., some two and a half years ago.
Ernest says he’s throwing “about 4 or 5 mph” faster than he was during high school,
something he attributes to football weight training.
Sophomore pitcher Blake Monar said Ernest is progressing nicely and isn’t afraid to look for guidance.
“He’ll ask me a few things here and there just because he’s been out of (baseball) for a few years,” said Monar. “He’s got some questions as far as mechanics go, but he’s getting the hang of it quick.”
Adding baseball to his plate won’t be the only major change for Ernest in 2010. He’s expected to transition from wide receiver to cornerback this fall in football – a move precipitated by a glut of wide receivers on IU football coach Bill Lynch’s roster.
Even though Ernest picked up baseball, he hasn’t dropped his offseason football duties. On Thursday, Ernest had an early morning running session with the football team, a baseball practice in the afternoon and more football practice in the early evening.
Ernest is continuing a trend of IU athletes playing two sports, as former Hoosier outfielder Andrew Means also played wide receiver on the football team. Means is now playing baseball in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league organization.
Smith said the experience last year provided the “Means Blueprint,” as communication between him and Lynch helped the athlete work for both programs.
“It goes back to the partnership with the other coach,” Smith said. “Bill was real comfortable in saying ‘You know, if he’s a contributor, we know it can work, we’ve done it before,’ and he was really willing to let it happen.”