Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
Maryland baseball would not have anywhere near their level of success if it were not for the players.
They have all put the team before themselves, and each deserve to be commended in that regard. They all have one thing on their minds heading into the 2021 season: getting back to a high level of baseball from previous seasons.
Up and down the roster, the Terrapins boast an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent and abilities. Each brings something new to the table, and can help the Terps make a deep run into the summer. Some of the players had some thoughts about the state of the team, the upcoming seasons, and their own paths to College Park.
When he discusses the presumed ace of his rotation this year, head coach Rob Vaughn has nothing but praise for sophomore Sean Burke.
“Sean was a guy that we didn’t actually think he would get here,” Vaughn said. “He tweaked his arm, and it forced him to go to college… Right now, he is up at around 240 pounds. He used to to be listed at 210, so it is a huge change for him. He is just an imposing pitcher.”
Last season, Burke led Maryland with more than 22 innings pitched. He boasted a 1.99 ERA in four starts and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
“Sean has the stuff, he has the spin rate everyone looks for, and he did (this) last year,” Vaughn added. “His secondary stuff has gotten much, much better. He used to use those pitches as a wrinkle to keep guys off balance, but now, he is throwing two legitimate breaking balls now… His changeup has progressed big time. That is what makes him so effective: he has four great pitches.”
Burke attributes his 2020 success to his perseverance.
“Last year, in the preseason, I was really struggling,” the right-hander said. “I made three or four really bad starts and had never pitched that bad in my life. Actually, I think it was necessary to struggle like that. It helped me grow and get better at the game as a whole. I learned to stick to my strengths.”
When it comes to the pitching staff, Maryland also has some versatility. Last season, Sean Fisher, now a senior, made his first starts. Previously, he was an arm that was coming out of the bullpen.
Fisher made four starts, and enjoyed the process, but admits it was not a huge change for him.
“The only real adjustment was that I was able to have a more set routine,” the lefty said. “Nothing else changes. I get a more extended outing, and I am trying to get through the lineup two or three times instead of just once.”
As a senior, Fisher wants to leave it all out on the field.
“I think that you have to make sure that you don’t take (the season) for granted,” Fisher added. “Who would have imagined that the season would be taken away from us like it was last year? I think you have to give it your all because who knows if this is your last game? We found that out quickly last year that this game can be taken from you at any moment.”
A Star At the Plate
In 2020, it seemed like a global pandemic was the only thing that could slow down Maxwell Costes. Maryland’s star first baseman had a transcendent sophomore season, albeit a shortened one. He had a slash line of .432/.620/.750. This line would put him in the conversation for not only one of the best hitters in the Big Ten, but in the country as a whole.
“Max has just stepped up from day one, and has just hit. He has a knack for getting the barrel on the ball and hitting,” Vaughn said. “Max is just a presence in your lineup. He is physical, and stands right on top of the plate. He doesn’t really move his feet or deviate from that spot (in the batter’s box). The way to get Max out is to throw fastballs in, but when his toes are on the white line of the batter’s box, if you miss, it is going a long way.”
The superstar hitter for Maryland feels as though the game will remain the same for him, even though he has not stepped into the box in about a year.
“I mean, baseball doesn’t change. We still have to throw the ball over the plate, we still have to hit the ball and all that,” Costes said. “The only difference is that we will be playing against a different team.”
There is no denying the talent that Maxwell possesses. He is recognized by multiple sources, including Baseball America as one of the top contenders to win the Golden Spikes Award — the award given to the top college player. Costes however, isn’t too concerned with what others are saying.
“I’ve been untold a lot that we have to be authentic to ourselves,” he explained. “I’ve never been someone that has gotten caught up in accolades and awards. My teammates are not only my friends, but my brothers. They don’t expect me to be some great talented person, they expect me to be myself.”
Over the summer, Costes has been very active on the topic of Black Lives Matter. From posting something on social media, to speaking out about some of the more hot button issues, he has really been a leader in the community. Costes refuses to be just an athlete.
“Baseball is what we do, not who we are… I think that I have a platform now that I can reach people,” he said. “Personally, I try to use my social media to spread thought-provoking ideas and information. I know that I can do my part, and try to help as much as possible.”
When the 2020 season ended, Maryland was leading the Big Ten by averaging 7.4 runs per game. The Terps ranked second in the conference in home runs and third in stolen bases.
Ben Cowles became a dependable bat at the top of the order last season. His six stolen bases were tied for the most on the team, and he was a big part of the offense. He spoke about what it means to be playing a schedule against only conference foes.
“I think we are lucky. Some conferences have already canceled their spring season, so we are very lucky to be in this position,” Cowles said. “Every team thinks they have a chance to win the Big Ten, and that means we will have a great shot.”
For the Terps, it will be another year where they should compete for the Big Ten title. They will be attempting to win the Big Ten for the first time since entering the conference in 2015.
Vaughn calls this team the best one he has ever coached, and that is echoed by the players. There is no question that this season will be unique. The defining factor for the Terps will be how they deal with the uniqueness that goes along with this season — one that begins against Michigan State on March 5 in Greenville, SC.