Despite snow on the ground and temperatures hovering in the teens, baseball season is finally here for the Grand Rapids Community College Raiders.
The Raiders come into this season with some familiar faces in the dugout, but titles have changed for some of the coaching staff. Mike Eddington is heading into his first year as the Raiders’ head coach after spending five seasons as an assistant, including the last two under Mike Cupples who finished his 14th season last year as head coach.
Cupples decided to step down as head coach last summer but is sticking around in an assistant role to Eddington. Cupples has quite the resume as he won four national championships as an assistant coach and one as a head coach. Eddington feels blessed to have Cupples’ experience in the dugout with him.
“For me being a head coach, I’m fortunate to have the experience with Coach Cupples and Coach (Carl) Pohlman,” Eddington said. “Coach Pohlman is our pitching coach, former Division I pitching coach and 17 years as head coach at Muskegon Community College. So we have four coaches this year, and I think that’s a big benefit to our program.”
GRCC athletic director Bill Firn is looking forward to the upcoming season and thinks this year’s coaching staff will help the team make huge strides. Even with Cupples still on staff, Firn expects there to be a few changes in how things are run.
“Eddington is a (classy) guy,” Firn said. “He just puts in a ton of effort, and he cares quite a bit about each individual player. I think it’s a change in pace for the coaching. The coaching staff has changed some… Mike Cupples is still on staff, however, we have a new pitching coach in Carl Pohlman and then Mike Eddington himself. Those two guys are more, I’d probably say on the militant side of organization and practice decorum and how things run and that was probably a shock to the players a little bit, but I think it’s a good thing.”
Sophomore shortstop and team captain Brady Paganelli joined The Collegiate Podcast to talk about the upcoming season. He’s already noticed a shift in Eddington’s coaching style since taking over as the head coach.
“Definitely, I’d say (he’s) more vocal than he was in the past,” Paganelli said. “Last year, he was more of just a hitting coach. Kind of just went around the hitters, now he’s kind of getting involved in all the bunt defensive, firsts and thirds, everything really… I’d say he’s more vocal, more serious, holds us more accountable than he did last year.”
Eddington and the team will be taking their talents south for spring break as the Raiders will start their season in the Florida panhandle. This brings a unique opportunity both for the team to come closer together and the chance to play against high caliber opponents.
“Obviously we go down there and we play those good teams, but they’re still juco teams,” Paganelli said. “They’re still teams that I think we can beat. We gotta obviously go down there and compete, that’s what coaches have been stressing to us, and I think we can.
“Definitely going down there with the freshmen, it’s obviously an experience,” he continued. “I mean as a freshman last year, I experienced, too, that it’s a lot different baseball than high school.”
The trip to Florida has the potential to be brutal as the Raiders will be run through the gauntlet facing some of the top rated junior colleges. Despite how the team fares, Eddington’s goal for the team won’t change.
“We have a very simple goal and it started in the fall,” Eddington said. “It’s just, try to get a little bit better each day and be a good teammate. I think we have some better depth this year and after this spring trip, it’ll give us a good idea of who’s going to play. We do play all the top DI juco teams in the country and it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
The Raiders had a tough time in Florida last year going just 1-10 in 11 games played in the Sunshine State. Even with the 10 losses in Florida, the Raiders still managed to pull off a .500 record of 24-24.
In order to get over that hump this season, Eddington harked back to his message and anthem for the team.
“It’s the same thing, just getting better every day,” Eddington said. “It’s a process, basically. We play tough competition… but our goal is… to get better and we’re expecting to compete for championships. We’re trying to add more depth to the team to create competition and I think we have that this year.”
The Raiders begin their spring training on Friday, March 1 when they play Chipola College in Marianna, Florida at 2 p.m. The team’s first scheduled home game is set for Friday, March 22 when they host the Ancilla College Chargers at Belknap Park in Grand Rapids at 2 p.m.