It’s been a little under two years since Ben Casparius has played a collegiate game of baseball.
After transferring from North Carolina at the end of the 2019 season and sitting out last year due to transfer rules, the Westport native and Staples High School alum will finally make his UConn debut this Friday when the Huskies open the 2021 season at No. 5 Virginia.
And to make his debut that much more, Casparius, the 2017 Connecticut Baseball Gatorade Player of the Year, has already been named the team’s starter for Friday night.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Casparius said of earning the roll during media day on Wednesday. “There was just something about coming back to Connecticut, being in the northeast. I remember my visit, I think it was like in mid-June or early June at the time, and I kinda just fell in love with this place right when I got here.”
The right-handed pitcher is just one of the many talented athletes going into the Huskies’ 2021 season. The program not only bolsters its largest-ever roster with deep talent, but a brand-new field and a new slate of conference opponents as it rejoins the Big East Conference this year.
Additionally, the Huskies have been named the favorite in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ poll along with four preseason individual nods, including sophomore outfielder Kyler Fedko sharing the Preseason Player of the Year honor with Seton Hall’s Tyler Shedler-McAvoy.
“I have never looked forward to a season as much as I’ve looked forward to this one,” head coach Jim Penders said. “It’s been the longest offseason of my life, and I think for most of us from not playing a game since mid-March, it’s been difficult. That lack of competition has been estranged along with a lot of other things with regard to COVID and our current situation, but we’re just chomping at the bit to get going and see a different uniform.”
Casparius is one of several Connecticut players on the roster. Others include pitchers Randy Polonia (Stamford), outfield Korey Morton (Norwalk), Ryan Hyde (Berlin), Andy Hague (Woodbridge), Chris Winkel (Orange), Pat Winkel (Orange), Kevin Ferrer (Pawcatuck), Phoenix Billings (Madison), Hector Alejandro (Naugatuck), Will Lucas (Fairfield), Ben Maycock (Newington), Todd Peterson (Newtown), Chris Brown (Trumbull), Garrett Coe (Lakeside), David Christoforo (North Haven), Andrew Marrero (New Haven), Leo Socci (Stamford) and Matt Donlan (Guilford).
With last year’s MLB draft shortened to five rounds, instead of the normal 40, and with the addition of incoming freshmen and returning seniors who chose to use the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility after last season was cut short due to COVID, the Huskies will have their largest roster in program history with 44 total players. Penders said on Wednesday, he expects 40 of those players to remain active with only four sitting out the season due to injury.
While it’s important to have a large pool of talent, balancing the extra bodies will become complicated as the season goes on. For example, in the Huskies road trip this weekend to 2015 National Champion Virginia, only 25 players will travel with the team to compete. With the season just beginning and lineup adjustments still to be made, Penders said he believes the excess of players is going to be a problem for most programs across the country and may result in players transferring to junior college levels to increase playing opportunities.
“When opportunities are going to be limited, you’re going to learn a lot about that impact in the coming days and weeks,” Penders said. “I think Tim Corbin (Vanderbilt) said it right, ‘The water is going to go in from both ends of the pipe. At some point it’s going to burst.’”
UConn was set to open Elliot Ballpark on Sunday March 29, 2020 in a game against Seton Hall before the spring season was shut down due to the pandemic. The new field, which seats over 1,300 fans and includes artificial turf, also brought the Huskies a new performance center and a renovated home locker room.
The Huskies, who finished last year 8-5, rejoin the Big East Conference after seven years of competing in the American Athletic Conference. They’ll start the 2021 season with 27 nonconference games against 12 different opponents, before starting Big East play on April 9 in an at-home series against Georgetown. As of this week, the schedule consists of 19 home games at Elliot Ballpark, including UConn’s home opener on March 23 against Central Connecticut.
Outside of Virginia, the Huskies are scheduled to play a two-game series at 2016 National Champion Coastal Carolina March 7 and 8. Immediately following its road trip to South Carolina, UConn will play a four-game series at No. 2 Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas March 12 through 15.
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