How ready is Mike Carden to start the baseball season?
North Newton's newest coach has already spent two days of a picture-perfect March weather weekend preening the diamond. As the IHSAA's baseball season opens with practice today, the former Spartans designated hitter and first baseman found his dream job returning to his own old confines.
"I think everyone's a little excited about today," said the 1989 North Newton grad. "We're tired of being locked up in the gym. Everyone wants to get outside: the coaches, the kids. It looks like we're going to have a good week of weather to do it."
Carden is hoping that good luck with the weather extends to the season. His memories of high school baseball include a semistate bid with the Spartans in 1989, in the years of single-class baseball.
He's compiled a coaching staff that remembers many of the same things, seasons of winning and lengthy success.
"The big thing we're trying to do is turn the program around and get back to where we were 15 or 20 years ago, when North Newton competed in every game that they played," Carden said. "We want to compete in the conference; we want to compete for a sectional championship, and it starts wanting to compete in that very first game."
Carden takes over for Greg Mikulich, who resigned in November to spend more time with his growing family. The junior varsity coach for two seasons, Carden has used every minute of his offseason open gyms to evaluate his young team. He returns just a pair of seniors, with the potential for a big future down the road.
"We're going to be young with a lot of years ahead of us," Carden said. "Our pitching is all young, and none of our starters are upperclassmen. We've got more sophomores than juniors, but we should have some decent speed. We don't have a lot of power right now, but I think a lot of people will struggle with the new (BBCOR) bats, so there's not going to really be a big power-hitting team."
That's the next catch: Carden enters in a season where pitching is expected to dominate early, while players around the country become accustomed to the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution bats that reduce the trampoline effect on contact with the ball. When the switch was made in college baseball last season, it translated to fewer runs, fewer home runs and more emphasis on the pitcher.
High school coaching has long been a dream of Carden's, who isn't a teacher by trade. When the junior varsity position opened up two seasons ago, he jumped at the slot and makes the easy transition into this year.
Anytime you can put an alum back in the school, it benefits the athletes, who rely on a coach's hometown pride as much as his baseball expertise.
"The kids get a little bit of energy or excitement when they listen to us talk about when we played baseball," Carden said. "Everyone has a story to tell, but unfortunately North Newton teams -- and not just in baseball -- haven't had a lot of success on the boys sports side of it. We're trying to show them that they can."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.