Bulls Righting the Ship
Buffalo making strides to change the culture of the baseball program
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
There is change blowing through Buffalo.
Springs are not usually fun for the baseball team. Too often, the promise of a new beginning, and the expectations for greatness were quickly dashed by the time the season reached its midway point. Coming off of a 14-win season – and only three of those coming in the Mid-American Conference – outsiders felt the same coming into this year.
This year’s squad has refused to yield to those low expectations. Although they currently sit four games under .500, the Bulls’ 7-11 record doesn’t reflect the talent and the effort in which guys have played, as they work to change a losing culture that has permeated the program.
Head coach Ron Torgalski has spearheaded that charge. Since 2007, he has been the guy in charge of something that seemed impossible – the rise from irrelevance. Despite the many obstacles that are dumped onto this team – from the lack of quality facilities, to the challenge of playing baseball in the northeast – Torgalski has found a way to slowly change that losing mentality, and it has rubbed off on his current players.
One of those players inspired by Torgalski’s vision is junior outfielder Matt Pollock.
“It was really tough,” Pollock said. “Through those times when we really weren’t doing well we worked hard. After seeing that it wasn’t really a good team, we saw good teams and [now] we know how to play with them.”
That all seemed to change during the summer. The mental growth of the returning players, as well as the offseason regiment that strength and conditioning coach Nate Harvey implemented, have paid dividends this season.
Players like Pollock, as well as junior shortstop and reliever Jon Mestas has seen tremendous jumps statistically this year, and that has led this team to believe that it can contend in the MAC.
“When you’re practicing in the winter you never have the mentality that we’re a losing team and we’re not a winning team,” said senior pitcher Kevin Crumb. “I think the mentality with us is we know we have guys that can play, we have a pretty good team and everybody on this team believes that we’re going to win some conference games.”
For a Bulls team reaching relevance, it’s been a long road.
The late ’70s and early ’80s were a boon for Buffalo baseball. Twenty-win seasons were the norm, and expectations were high. Following the move to Division-1, the program had to be shut down in 1988.
For 13 long seasons, from the late ’80s to the late ’90s, spring meant nothing for Buffalo. There was no program. In the years since the return of Bulls baseball in 2000, there have been strides made, but if you ask Torgalski, he will tell you that it has not been easy.
“It’s been a slow gradual process since the program came back in 1999,” Torgalski said. “It’s a process as far as facilities, scholarship dollars and we’ve been behind in all of those since it came back, and it’s been a grind to get it on the level on the rest of the programs.”
For the most part, Torgalski has navigated the obstacles well. But MAC play has been a struggle for the Bulls in the last bunch of years, and it’s something that the coach has been working on improving.
“It’s been a tough process, being in the Mid-American Conference for baseball,” Torgalski said. “It’s a conference that’s rich in tradition, and it’s been around a long time. Look on every Major League roster, and there are guys from the MAC on teams. It’s a great level and people don’t realize how great it is. People thought when we got the program back we would come in and just dominate after a few years, but it’s not that easy with the competition.”
Fortunately for the Bulls, this seems to be the year of change. Offensively, this team has been able to bludgeon the opposition, as it is among the MAC leaders in a number of categories, including batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Even if there has been troubles in the latter innings, with Buffalo sporting a 1-6 record in one-run games, every game has been competitive, and with the talent surrounding this team, it has the chance to beat any opponent, according to Torgalski.
And that’s something that has been missing for a long time.