Baseball squad readies for hopeful 2nd season

By John Dietz

Winter training starts Wednesday for what should be the beginning of an exciting second season of NIU baseball.

When the Huskies finally play in DeKalb on March 31 against the University of Northern Iowa, they will have spent their first 21 games on the road.

Once at home, they should give the fans plenty of quality entertainment in 1992.

The team will greatly benefit from the arrival of Wisconsin’s Tom O’Neill and Joe Smits. O’Neill was the Big Ten Player of the Year and stolen base leader last year. Both O’Neill and Smits decided to play at NIU after Wisconsin decided to drop its baseball program for financial reasons.

Even with the arduous, extended road swing, Coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland is optimistic about the upcoming season. O’Neill and Smits are two of the 13 new faces on the team.

After an 11-25 season last year, the team is looking to improve enough to compete on a regular basis.

“If we play .500 (this season), I think everyone would be excited,” McFarland remarked. “It would be fun to compete and at least make a run at the (Mid-Continent) conference title.”

However McFarland is cautious in expecting too much out of his young team.

“In our second season it’s not realistic to expect a whole lot,” the second-year coach said.

O’Neill also shared in his new coach’s optimism for the upcoming season.

“In our conference we’ve got a real, real good chance of

finishing (No.) 1 or 2. It’ll just come down to us executing,” O’Neill said. “From what I’ve seen, there’s no reason we can’t beat those (conference) teams.”

With O’Neill’s former team out of commission, he had to find a new school to play for and NIU looked like the perfect place to go. “I liked his (McFarland’s) theory on baseball. He likes to run a lot and I like to run too.”

At first glance, an 11-25 1990-91 final record may not look impressive, but NIU managed to win 11 of its final 18 outings.

So with the momentum carried over from last year, a recruiting class ranked 40th in the nation, and the addition of guys like O’Neill on the bases, the Huskies could have a legitimate shot at a .500 season.