The Cal Poly baseball team was getting trounced. UCLA was on its way to a 19-0 victory over the Mustangs on Feb. 27 when freshman catcher Nick Meyer walked out to the pitcher’s mound in the sixth inning.
Surrounded by the seething teammates, Meyer didn’t harp on fielders for errors or pitcher Craig Colen for missing his spots. Instead, the freshman tried to lighten the mood.
“(We) were on the mound saying ‘I don’t know why we’re mad right now, we just need to have some fun,’” Meyer said. “After that inning, we started to play a little bit better — we obviously didn’t come back (that night) but it helped us out the next day, we won the next game. We just try to make fun in the stuff, instead of just letting stuff spiral downhill.”
Looser and more comfortable, Cal Poly rebounded to beat the Bruins 6-2 in the final game of the series the next day. Not everything has gone smoothly in the Mustangs’ 30-24 season, but the team’s camaraderie has been a bright spot and makes for a promising future.
This mindset is something new to the Mustangs, making this season different from others.
The team had to rebuild its roster after losing players to the Major League Baseball (MLB) draft, making 15 freshman additions this season. However, the team has been one that junior first baseman and captain Brett Barbier considers to have some of the strongest team chemistry that he has been a part of.
“I would say it’s unlike any other year,” Barbier said.
According to Barbier, it’s rare to find a team where everyone fits in and gets along when there are 34 players. This season, however, the Mustangs have built relationships that allow for better communication on the field.
“You can call a guy out and be brutally honest with him and tell him he needs to pick it up and no one really takes it to heart. They just know everyone’s out here trying to get everyone better and trying to push each other,” Barbier said. “Everyone is able to separate the on-the-field stuff and doesn’t take it off the field and that makes the environment more fun. That definitely really helps us, being really close.”
Players had their doubts before entering the season because team chemistry is always a concern when introducing new players to a team. Newcomers and returners alike questioned how the 34-man team would perform as a whole.
When freshman shortstop Kyle Marinconz entered his first practice this season, he was unsure of how the season would turn out due to the gap between freshmen and returning players — something he thought would lead to tension on the team.
“But actually, there was none of that,” Marinconz said. “Absolutely none. Everybody was rooting for each other, it was great team chemistry.”
Meyer agrees that there is something unique about the team’s dynamics.
“It’s just special to see a team like that, that can make errors or not play well, and they’re just having fun and they’re not worried about losing, they’re not worried about making mistakes,” Meyer said. “That’s when you know a team’s good.”
The team chemistry is characterized by more than getting along with one another. The team has carried this bond outside of the game of baseball, developing its own set of traditions and quirks.
At the start of the season, Barbier led the team in “Mustache March,” where players grew facial hair for the entire month.
“I did (Mustache March) my sophomore year and there was only six of us, and then being that it might have been my last year here at Cal Poly, I figured I wanted to do it again, but I really wanted everyone to do it,” Barbier said. “It turned out a lot of guys got on board with it and it was really fun. It was a good team bonding thing.”
The Mustangs have also established a pregame tradition to boost excitement before games.
“We’ll go in the locker room to put our game jerseys on and we always play this song you’d hear at a club, or like a rave, it’s always playing when we walk in,” Meyer said. “Everyone just is fired up and is just ready to go. It’s just kind of a team thing, that we’re just looking forward to playing that song.”
Though the Mustangs (30-24, 10-11) only have one more conference series left, they have already achieved the accomplishment of improving from last season — in more ways than just breaking 2015’s 27-27 record.
Despite facing its share of difficulties this season, during a period in which many consider a “rebuilding year,” the team has found a way to make the best of it.