For the first time, a BYU team shows the benefit of its newly-opened Indoor Practice Facility when its baseball teams opens its season this week.
Cougar baseball begins Thursday when BYU travels to Berkeley, Calif., for a three-game series against California. The Cougars have been practicing as a full team since Jan. 12 in accord with NCAA rules, but this time it has been aided by the new 422-foot-wide, 86-foot-high facility.
After finishing 2003 tied for second place in the Mountain West Conference with a 30-24 record, the Cougars look to start the season strong against the Golden Bears. Third-team Preseason All-American Ranger Wiens is among five position starters returning from last season. Wiens led the Cougars last year in several offensive categories hitting, .405 with 25 doubles, 21 stolen bases and 55 RBI.
Head coach Vance Law, entering his fifth season with BYU, said he's optimistic about the season opener.
"We have a very talented team coming into the season," Law said. "We have some of the best hitters in the conference. Our pitching is talented, but inexperienced. This series will give us a chance to test our arms."
Likely throwing the first pitch for the Cougars will be last year's MWC Pitcher of the Year Paul Jacinto. The All-Conference player returns after leading BYU pitchers with a 10-5 record, 4.14 ERA and 83 strikeouts. Probable game two and three starters are Bryce Searle (0.00 in 2.1 innings) and Eastern Utah transfer Patrick Wells (8-2, 1.29).
Ranked 26th in Baseball America's Preseason Poll, the Bears also boast the fifth best freshman class in the nation. Cal senior catcher Chris Grossman enters the season as one of 10 finalists for the Johnny Bench Award given to the nations top collegiate catcher. He hit .341 with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 45 RBI.
The Cougars have split 16 games with Cal, winning two of three in their last meeting at Berkeley in 2001.
The three-game series begins a 26-game stretch of games played in California before BYU opens at home March 18 to play UNLV. The Cougars return to California on Thursday Feb. 5 joining St. Mary's and Nevada for a three-game tournament hosted by the University of Pacific.
Thursday's opener and Friday's game at Cal have both been changed to start at 1:30 p.m. (PST) and the Saturday finale is at noon (PST). BYU will not have live radio coverage through it's own network until league games begin in mid-March. The Cal-BYU games can be followed live on Gametracker, a link to this webcast can be found on www.byucougars.com.