With the countdown to Terps baseball’s return ticking to just ten days, Maryland baseball held its media day Monday afternoon via Zoom, giving Coach Rob Vaughn and four of his players a chance to field questions about a variety of topics mostly related to the team’s lengthy hiatus off the field and what’s expected for the shortened 2021 season.
The four players to join Vaughn were Sean Burke, Maxwell Costes, Benjamin Cowles, and Sean Fisher, but since there was so much said between the five Terps during the Zoom session, we narrowed down four of the most important things we learned.
No. 1: Staying sharp during the offseason
The Terps haven’t competed in a baseball game since March 11, 2020, so many of the questions to Vaughn and his players had to do with how they stayed prepared and loose — both mentally and physically — during the lengthy offseason.
“Our guys have been very mature in their process and they’ve gone about their business very professionally,” said Vaughn of his team’s response to the pandemic. “You see things how they are, keep a neutral mindset and keep moving forward. That’s what our guys have done a good job of.”
While the 2020 season ended abruptly, it has taught the players how they have to treat each game like it could be their last, especially for the returning seniors this season.
“I was four starts in, thinking I was going to play all year and next thing you know I am back in my home,” said the senior Fisher. “The biggest lesson throughout the whole thing was you have to keep playing like you don’t know when you [won’t be able to play] anymore.”
Meanwhile, Vaughn gave examples of how the players have been keeping their minds right during the offseason, specifically noting reading books, meditating, and generally things to keep themselves mentally fresh.
“Most of the stuff that I worked on [this offseason] was my athleticism and my mental health,” said Costes. “Last year when I was doing bad, I would go back to the hotel and panic. I did a lot more work becoming a much calmer and centered person. I don’t feel that pressure anymore.”
No. 2: High praise for Sean Burke
There wasn’t a clear answer to what the rotation will officially look like to open the season, but both Burke and Fisher are expected to be featured in it one way or another.
Burke had his freshman year cut short after four starts, but he put up phenomenal numbers. The righty recorded a 1.99 earned-run average while striking out 35 batters versus 11 walks, and Vaughn said he expects a big sophomore year from Burke.
“His secondary stuff has gotten much better,” said Vaughn. “He had a wrinkle he could throw for a strike last year when he needed to get guys off his fastball. But, he’s throwing two legit breaking balls right now. He’s got four pitches that he can throw in any count.”
Vaughn also noted Burke’s improved fastball which now sits at 98 mph, as well as a well-improved changeup.
“We’re looking for a really good year out of him,” said Vaughn.
No. 3: Maxwell Costes unnerved by preseason pomp
Nobody on this Maryland squad racked up more preseason accolades than Maxwell Costes, and a look at his 2020 performance would more than speak for itself. The junior upstaged a tremendous .944 on-base plus slugging percentage in his freshman season with a 1.370 OPS through 15 games last season.
Some of his notable preseason nods include a spot on the 2021 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List, being named D1Baseball.com’s 2021 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and part of National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association’s 2021 Preseason All-American First Team.
“My hitting coach — Coach [Matt] Swope — tells us all the time that we need to be authentic to ourselves,” said Costes. “I’ve never been someone that’s caught up in accolades and awards and stuff, and I’m blessed to say that [my teammates here] I’m surrounded by friends and brothers that allow me to basically be who I am.”
Costes also talked about not being bothered by the expectations that the preseason pomp could weigh on him.
“I’m not nervous at all. It’s been a whole year, but baseball doesn’t change,” said Costes. “They still have to throw the ball over the plate and you still have to hit the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball.”
No. 4: Expectations for a unique year
There’s no telling how the season could go for Maryland given the extraordinary circumstances the team and college baseball as a whole find themselves in, but Vaughn couldn’t have said it much better than this: “I hope we do things [this season] that have never been done before here. That’s my goal.”
Maryland has been among many collegiate programs to benefit from returning players, such as the veteran presences of Fisher, Randy Bednar, Chris Alleyne, Justin Vought, and Elliot Zoellner, among others. Vaughn said that the mix of the returning players along with the young talent Maryland boasts should shape up to a very potent team.
“I think this team’s got a chance to be pretty special,” said Vaughn. “I think there’s a blend of experience and youth that is really good. I think there’s a lot of ability and a lot of talent, which is something to start with.”