Maryland embarks on its longest road stretch of the season Friday, starting its seven-game journey in Bloomington, Indiana, against the Hoosiers.
The Terrapins try to maintain the same process before and during road games that they use to approach home contests, but there’s no denying the difference in results. The Terps have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard just one time in 19 games in College Park, while they’ve gone 6-8 in road matches this year.
“I definitely think there’s an advantage [at home] just because we know how to play on this field,” outfielder Will Watson said. “We have kind of a unique outfield … and the turf—obviously we know how to play on the turf. The infielders know how the ball bounces and know how to play short hops and we use the bunting to our advantage a lot.”
Those advantages specific to Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium disappear on the road, where new quirks pop up and must be quickly mastered in pregame warmups.
Coach John Szefc listed the speed the infield plays at, the dimensions of the outfield and how the wind is blowing as important things to note before the first pitch is thrown.
Watson and center fielder Zach Jancarski both mentioned the importance of getting used to the batter’s eye that will backdrop the pitches they see that day. A tall, monochromatic dark green center field wall makes the baseball stand out in College Park, but not every batter’s eye is so friendly.
“Guys are different in the way that they kind of track the ball,” Watson said. “We have guys on our team in there that even when we’re hitting inside, there’s a white door in there and they want to hit on this side of the cage simply because there’s a white door back there.”
Maryland has traveled to a number of fields this year with groups of pine trees sprouting up beyond the center field fence, but those backdrops cause no problems for Watson, he said.
“I’m kind of easy,” Watson said. “As long as it isn’t blending in with any white object back there, I’m fine with it.”
Evaluating center field is the most important adjustment for Jancarski. The wall in College Park is relatively close to home plate, so the junior often has more ground to cover in road games.
While he has more room to run, Jancarski has to be more cautious when he crosses a foreign warning track.
“Our wall’s really soft, which is nice, so I can go flying into it and nothing will happen,” Jancarski said. “But sometimes it will be wood walls or something that’s a little bit harder, which makes it more difficult. The ball’s going to come off a bit differently.”
Differences manning the field surely exist, but in theory, the act of hitting should be roughly the same no matter where a player steps into the box.
Szefc said there can be a difference hitting on the road from at home if a player mentally allows there to be one.
“If you have a certain plan that you take up to the plate, where … you’re looking for something out over the middle of the plate, you’re trying to get yourself in a good count—I mean it really shouldn’t matter,” he said.
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Away hitters (excluding neutral field games)
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For some players like third baseman AJ Lee this hold true, and the results hardly vary across ballparks. Other players, like Watson, have seen steep drop offs in production on the road, albeit with small sample sizes.
That could be coincidental, merely bad luck. Szefc offered that sometimes players might try too hard to come up with a hit after a couple of fruitless at-bats.
“Well sometimes guys have 0-for-1, 0-for-2, and they let that creep into their minds, they can allow that to affect the rest of their process,” Szefc said. “But hitting is such a mental thing, that can happen anywhere, whether it’s on the road or whether it’s at home.”
Maryland will look to keep its minds clear at the plate as it heads to Indiana (22-16-2, 8-6-1 Big Ten) looking for more road and conference wins.
The Terps’ pitchers will also have to remain focused, as the Hoosiers lead the Big Ten with 45 home runs, averaging more than one per game. Matt Lloyd and Craig Dedelow lead the way with nine apiece. Luke Miller follows them with eight.
Szefc said the team won’t treat Indiana’s lineup with any more caution than their other opponents and will have his pitchers challenge batters to get ahead in the count.
“If they hit a home run, they hit a home run,” he said. “I’d much rather have them hitting solo home runs.”
Indiana’s power is one part of the equation that has propelled them to the conference lead in home runs, but other pitchers are often missing their spots. That leads to the ball flying over the fence, Szefc said.
“So if you locate and you don’t make as many mistakes, you’re probably not going to give up as many long balls,” he added.
Game one begins Friday at 6:05 p.m., which should see righties Brian Shaffer and Jonathan Stiever square up. Stiever rebounded from a rough outing against Minnesota with seven shutout innings against Michigan last Friday. He carries a 4.95 ERA and holds batters to a .310 batting average.
Right-hander Taylor Bloom and left-hander Tyler Blohm could return to their normal rotation order this week after both started games in Sunday’s doubleheader against Michigan State. Bloom normally starts Saturday contests, but he and Blohm switched the last two weeks after Bloom got knocked out early against Nebraska and started a midweek game to up his pitching reps.
Saturday’s match starts at 2 p.m., with a Sunday noon game capping the weekend.