Louis Agudelo/ Staff Writer
The Panthers have officially begun practicing for the 2016 regular season, and boy, do things look scary. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of it though, let’s bring another food metaphor to the table.
Some of you reading this may have read my last column on this team, where I compared the FIU batting order this season, to one of my best friend’s toughest trials in life. My friend found that the filet-o-fish he had ordered from McDonald’s actually had no fish between it’s buns.
For those of you who might not understand, the Panthers have lost four of last season’s best bats from the middle of their line-up.
Months ago, McDonald’s introduced an option that fast food has yet to try. That option was mozzarella sticks. The University did something very similar, bringing in their own three-piece combination with left handed second baseman Zach Files, right handed first baseman Nick Day, and switch-hitting Irving Lopez. The last of the three actually batted .447 in the fall, so these mozzarella sticks are looking like a better idea with each passing day.
The question is, can this new, fun and exciting option fill the hole left in the belly of the Panthers, now that they’ve lost their fish? Or will the gimmick of a couple junior college transfers fall short of satisfying the FIU faithful, and their winning tastes, alike?
This team, just like right before the beginning of last season, a season in which they finished eighth and still managed to pull out nothing less than the Conference USA championship, has already been virtually counted out of first place. With the daunting task of having to integrate 20 new players to the FIU-way, and being expected to do so while playing 22 games in their first 30 days, Turtle Thomas and his boys have been predicted to finish fourth in the conference. It’s just like Pete Pelegrin said, though “-preseason prognostications mean very little.”
Something that should be noted, is that returning starting centerfielder Jack Schaaf, and returning right-handed ace Chris Mourelle have been named to the preseason All-Conference-USA team by College Sports Madness. It does fare well for the school in Sweetwater to have talent like that returning to make a run at back-to-back conference championships, but will the marinara sauce that is Jack Schaaf, and the milkshake that is Chris Mourelle, two staples of this FIU menu, I mean team, be as consistent as they have been in the past, and help win games?
I’ll get more into milkshakes and other menu items that you simply can’t live without in next week’s column, but for now, the Panthers have just around two weeks to set their line-up, condition their bodies and begin their journey back to the tourney. I wouldn’t dare make a prediction yet on where they’ll finish this season, standings-wise, but I imagine this program is built well enough, but they won’t hit the ground running against the Ole-Miss Rebels starting February 19, at Ole-Miss nonetheless. In fact, they’ll be lucky to win one game against the Rebels in their first series of the season, but within the first couple weeks, after a rocky start, this club will likely be seen, sitting in a booth, with a full balanced meal on their trays, ready for just about anything thrown their way, besides maybe Rice.