The stadium lights shine bright as the sun begins to set on the at Goodwin Field on a crisp Tuesday evening.
The sound of clinking bats and shouts from the outfield can only mean one thing — batting practice is in full swing, and members of the CSUF baseball team are taking turns rotating through home plate for their chance at bat.
The Titans are hard at work preparing for their season opener against No. 17 Stanford in a three-game series in Palo Alto over Valentine’s Day weekend.
“Stanford’s always a tough competition. They’re always a really good team and very competitive. It’s always good games in a series when we play against them,” said sophomore catcher Kameron Guangorena.
Guangorena, who was a standout in his first year with the team last season, appeared in 50 out of 53 games. In 13 of those games, he was the starting catcher. He is one example of a strong underclassmen who will help give the Titans necessary experience behind the plate.
When asked what the biggest challenge will be against Stanford, head coach Rick Vanderhook credited the Cardinal’s experience but he said that Fullerton has their own returners who have had plenty of time to recover during the off-season.
“They’re new, we’re new, they have a little more experience on the mound with a few guys who have pitched a little bit more than ours, but we’ve got some guys coming back who’ve been banged up in the fall,” said Vanderhook.
Since the Titans have been focusing on their team’s work ethic and strategy going into this season, they aren’t too worried about facing the Cardinal. Vanderhook is certain that every member of the team knows what is expected of them. A big part of that expectation is understanding how to control their own game without worrying too much about the other team.
“We don’t totally play to the opponent; we play the game, so we’re trying to figure out how to play what we want to play during parts of the game,” Vanderhook said.
It was an uphill battle for the Titans to recover towards the end of league play, and they rounded out the 2019 season with an overall record just one game above .500.
For the first time in 27 years, the Titans failed to make a postseason appearance in the NCAA tournament, which came as quite a shock to the baseball community.
The last time CSUF failed to make a postseason appearance was in 1991, but they found themselves competing in the national championship in Omaha the following season. The Titans are hoping for a similar outcome this year.
“We worked a lot harder, changed how we went about things and did what we can to make sure it doesn’t repeat itself,” Guangorena said.
According to projections from a Big West Preseason Coaches Poll, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game, the team is already a favorite to win the Big West Championship. Additionally, D1 Baseball ranked junior pitcher Tanner Bibee as the No. 4 conference prospect to be picked up in the MLB 2020 Draft.
“I don’t really feel pressure. Mentally, it’s not that bad. I think every year I’ve been here, we’ve been a favorite in the Big West. I’m excited. I want to win. I want to go in there and win and make a statement,” said Bibee.
D1 Baseball also named pitcher Michael Weisberg and infielder Brett Borgogno the No. 7 and No. 11 conference prospects for the draft, respectively.
Although they are primarily focused on their first match against the Cardinal, the Titans recognize they have some stiff competition throughout the entirety of the conference season.
“I’m going to guess that Cal Poly, Irvine, Santa Barbara — probably those teams are the biggest competition. There’s always gonna be Long Beach. They’re always tough just because they’re our rivals. The whole conference is going to be a grind just to get through,” Bibee said.
All projections aside, the Titans plan to take it one game at a time as they head into this 2020 baseball season, and they are committed to proving what it means to be a Titan.
“This team — this year — we did everything we can to prepare the best we can, so if all goes right, we won’t have to worry. It’ll happen,” Guangorena said.
CSUF’s first game against Stanford is scheduled in Palo Alto on Friday, Feb. 14 at 6:05 p.m.