Feb. 11, 2014
By Grace Duggan, MUTigers.com Baseball Correspondent
With eight returning position players and 13 returning pitchers, the Tigers are set to make some noise in the Southeastern Conference this season. Throughout the fall season and into the spring, the Mizzou baseball team has put a larger focus on team bonding. The players participated in group workouts all through the fall and developed a new tradition of weekly team meals.
"We just have a collective group of guys that want to be around each other day and night," said junior pitcher Keaton Steele.
The new team bonding exercises are helping the team build off of last season and with plenty of experience on the team, Mizzou is planning to do just that. Returning starting catcher Dylan Kelly sees the team growing together during the final season for five Mizzou seniors.
"The fact that we are going to be gone (next year), there is pressure," Kelly explained. "It's important that we enjoy being together one last time."
Kelly can already see a difference in comparison to the team last year, which broke in 16 newcomers before embarking on year one in the SEC.
"It feels good to be a team and a small unit," Kelly said. "Being together the whole time was awesome and by working together, you get the most out of that than doing something individually."
One of the main activities that have helped drive this team bonding is Fellowship of Christian Athletes or FCA. The team began doing weekly FCA meetings in late January with about 12 of the players. That number grew in the following weeks from 12 to 17 to 20 players participating in the meetings by the third week. Kelly does most of the research for FCA meetings like gathering the scriptures and looking for the services online that the players will watch that night.
Kelly bases the scriptures and lectures on what the team is doing in practice that week and the message that they want to convey. Both Kelly and Steele believe that the team being men of faith together will put them over the edge. The FCA meetings have really culminated into a way for the players to relate to each other and work for common goals. Steele talked about the FCA group learning to "control what you can control, being a man of faith and trusting in God. Everyone is kind of doing that and we are putting our trust in one another."
With much of the team on board with FCA, it is just one of the many ways that the Tigers are staying together off the field. Junior pitcher Brett Graves
came up with the idea of having weekly team meals. Instead of the team using per diem money to eat on their own, the team will all go somewhere together or to someone's house for a meal. The team hopes their bonding off the field will correlate to successes on the field.
"I think we lost like eight games by one run last year and I think if we band together as a group we can turn those eight losses into eight wins," Steele said. "That is the main message we are trying to get across."
Both Kelly and Steele are considered veterans on the team even after only one season at Mizzou. Steele considers himself a lead-by-example kind of guy believing that if he can get a big hit or make a big pitch and show some emotion, he will get the other guys fired up. On the other hand, Kelly is the vocal leader who is always willing to help the younger guys. As a senior, he believes it is his role to put his young teammates in the best position to succeed not only individually, but also for the team.
Whether it is bonding over a Bible verse, baseball or bowling, the Tigers have already had a successful offseason. Now as the season opener is just three days away, the team will head to Florida to judge if their efforts off the field can correlate to successes on the field. However, no matter the outcome of any game, this Missouri Tiger baseball team will remain together on and off the field.