The sounds of the song “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band can be heard on a Thursday afternoon on the University of Southern Maine Gorham Campus. This is only one of many songs that accompany the USM Baseball team as they continue their pursuit of excellence on the baseball field.
While the school has canceled all collegiate competition between other schools, they have not canceled practices for teams. The scene is very familiar to those that watch baseball. Athletes are throwing, catching, and hitting baseballs, and the drills are all the same. The real difference is how the practice is operated.
The practice started at 2:25 pm sharp. The two-time NCAA College World Series-winning coach Ed Flaherty brings the team together to start making progress towards his fourth decade as a head coach. In a normal year, the team would make a tight circle around Flaherty for the beginning of practice team meetings. Instead, each player is spread out in a larger circle, this way each athlete could be six-feet apart from each other.
With everyone in the circle six-feet apart and wearing masks, the team meeting starts. Flaherty addresses the team and talks about the goals for this season. Flaherty states to the team, “we have a little more time this year to get ready, so let’s make sure we are taking advantage of every practice.”
After the meeting, at 2:30 pm the team stretches and they begin working on baserunning, pop-flys, pitcher fielding practice and catchers work on blocking wild pitches. At 3:45 pm the team works on infield defense doing a “2-ball Drill” and at 4:10 pm practice ends with batting practice.
While the team practices, the playlist from Coach Flaherty’s phone serenades those on the field. The songs range from “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles to “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi and even “Bottoms Up” by Brantley Gilbert. “I started playing music years ago when I made a trip to the University of California, Los Angeles. They played music at their practices and I noticed that it helped the players relax more and play better, so I have over 1,000 songs on my phone and we listen to music during most practices,” said Flaherty.
Last year, the team was preparing for a great season and it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Now the team has to keep working and practicing with the future unknown. “I don’t have to do much to motivate these guys. They are a great group and they know what we are working towards. I also think we are going to have a season, and when we do this group will be ready,” said Flaherty.
USM has also made it easier for teams to practice given the situation, and have extended the amount of days teams would normally have to practice in the fall to a whopping 114 days. “I would consider ourselves to be lucky to be able to practice still. I don’t think there is much of a difference between what we used to do in practice and what we are doing now. I just know I don’t want to ruin it, so our team takes the health precautions very seriously, that way we can continue to practice,” said Flaherty.
The players on the field don’t seem to notice much of a difference either. “Other than the masks on our faces, we are still competing with the same intensity we’ve always had. I think that even though it is a little different, we are still able to practice and compete and work on our skills for the upcoming season”, said Tom Vesoky, a junior outfielder from Colchester, Vermont.
During the 2018 season, Flaherty achieved a personal milestone when he became the 11th coach in NCAA Division III History to reach 1,000 career wins. He holds an impressive record of 1,004 wins, 550 losses and 4 ties (.690 W-L Percentage) and that includes 17 seasons with 30 or more wins. A record that Flaherty and the USM Baseball team hope to continue when the baseball season hopefully returns.