Oakland baseball team is ready to get back on the diamond


Bijon Stigger

The Oakland baseball team starts their season Friday, Feb. 18 at California State University Bakersfield.

While the status of the 2022 Major League Baseball season remains up in the air, the college baseball season is ready for takeoff.

The Oakland University baseball team will begin their 2022 campaign on Friday, Feb. 18. Last offseason was a tough one for Head Coach Jordon Banfield, with the COVID-19 pandemic making things difficult on the recruiting front.

But this offseason brought a much-needed sense of normalcy for the second-year head coach.

“It was great—so much better,” Banfield said. “I got to worry about the team and coaching…it’s definitely a relief. To have all that going on in my first year as a Division I head coach was interesting.”

This year’s baseball roster has a good mix of experience and youth, with several key upperclassmen from last season returning. 

“This year was just a lot different [in terms of recruiting],” Banfield said. “We could really take the time it took to get the right pieces and we had a year to evaluate what we really needed, and then where the additions needed to go. I say this every year but like this year rings true more than anything — the makeup really, really started to separate. Let’s make sure that we’re getting good players that are the right people for the program that I want to have. We got a really good group. So it just was a lot more exhaustive, thorough process this time around and moving forward.” 

Senior infielder Michael Stygles and graduate student outfielder/right-handed pitcher Seth Tucker have been named team captains for the upcoming season. Stygles said he was “honored and humbled” to be named a captain.

“It was just something I really worked for and wanted,” Stygles said. “But at the same time it wasn’t a given, it had to be earned. I want to hopefully be able to fulfill my duties as a captain and be able to lead the team this year.”

Stygles talked about the importance of leadership when it comes to being a team captain.

“Being a captain, that’s the biggest thing is being a leader on and off the field and just showing the guys the right way to go about their business,” Stygles said. “I think meet both me and Seth Tucker will do a really good job of that on the preparation side and just showing younger guys—and just guys who haven’t really been at the Division-I level yet—how to prepare and be ready for a game and be ready for practice.”

Last year, Stygles was lead the Horizon League with .419 batting average during conference play. He said that “it will be a challenge” to follow that up this year.

“Last year I felt like a I flew under the radar a little bit with me not playing a full season of Division-I baseball up until that point,” Stygles said. “So knowing that this year will be a bigger challenge for me and knowing that teams know who I am coming into the games will be a challenge in itself. But I feel confident in my abilities and in myself to perform at the highest level and I’m not afraid of what’s ahead of me.”

Banfield said he is excited about the depth of the pitching staff, something the team didn’t really have last year.

“I’m excited that we’re gonna have a lot of guys that I feel good about bringing in,” he said. “We were three, four, five guys deep last year depending on the time. [If you look at why we struggled last season,] it was because we pitched very poorly and played poor infield defense. So there were games last year that would get out of control on us as soon as we got behind. We couldn’t go to some of our better relief options because we couldn’t risk using them in a game we were already down. [Now], we’re ten deep for sure.”

Banfield said he is especially excited to have starting pitcher Jacob Wosinski back and fully healthy. 

“His stuff is as good as anybody’s in the league,” Banfield said. “What he was last year was not him. That was the 9-10 month off Tommy John surgery, working his way back version. But he went out there and battled for us and gave us a chance a few times. But he’s a different guy and he’s confident, [and most importantly], he’s healthy. So that’s huge.”

As far as freshmen are concerned, Banfield said he’s excited the most about two-way player Brandon Nigh. Nigh pitches and plays third base.

“Brandon Nigh has probably been our top freshman dating back to the fall,” Banfield said. “He’ll play for sure.”

Wright State has dominated the Horizon League the past few years, having several players get selected in the MLB draft. Banfield said getting to their level will not happen overnight.

“Wright State has been that good,” Banfield said. “Certainly last year—they were the best mid major team I’ve ever coached against. They were good enough to have made it to the College World Series. How do you get to that level? Well, they’ve had a long track record of success now. And that starts with recruiting. Obviously it’s easier to recruit when you have success. So it’s a number of layers building. How do you get to where their program is at? It takes a while.” 

Last year, the Golden Grizzlies finished 18-29 overall, and 12-24 in the Horizon League. Stygles said he thinks the team has “as good a chance as ever” to compete in the Horizon League this season.

“In my three years here, this is easily the most talented and well-rounded group of guys [that we’ve had],” Stygles said. “I definitely feel like there’s a good chance of some good things happening this year. Obviously in the game of baseball, anything can happen. Injuries do happen, so hopefully we were able to stay healthy along the way. I think that if we stay healthy, there’s a really good chance of us making a run in the Horizon League this year.”

Oakland’s first opponent will be California State University-Bakersfield out of the Big West. Banfield said he “expects them to be good.”

“[The Big West] is a really, really good league,” Banfield said. “You’re talking UC-Irvine, CSU-Fullerton—some big time programs. I think [CSU-Bakersfield] was a game under .500 in that league, so based on that alone, I expect it to be a tough test. To go .500 in that league…you’re a good club.”

The first pitch of Oakland’s season will take place on Friday, Feb. 18 at 9 p.m.