Sports

Bulldogs swing to life despite format shift

Usually loud and overflowing with Fresno State baseball alumni in past seasons, the visiting dugout at Beiden Field was quiet and empty Saturday for the marquee event.

For the first time, Fresno State's past did not play its present for the annual exhibition that had pitted the current Bulldogs against a makeshift squad of former players.

The NCAA implemented a rule this season that prevents teams from playing outside competition before the Feb. 22 national start date.

So even "their own" was considered outside competition.

Instead, Fresno State held two separate games for Alumni Weekend -- alumni vs. alumni followed by an intrasquad scrimmage of the current players.

Ben Fritz, the 2002 Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, was one of 20 former Fresno State players to play in the alumni game that ended with a 1-1 tie after four innings.

And home runs by four Fresno State players, including a two-run shot from Tommy Mendonca in the first inning, highlighted the intrasquad scrimmage, which the red team won 8-5 over the navy team.

"If we had our druthers, we'd much rather play the alumni," said coach Mike Batesole, who begins his sixth season. "But you know, we got a lot of stuff done.

"The good side is all 15 position players got to play the whole time, so we get 18 innings out of a nine-inning game. It's just that we enjoying playing [the alumni]. It's fun to get them out there."

Last year, Fresno State scrimmaged an ever-changing alumni lineup that starred major league pitcher Jeff Weaver, who was coming off a memorable World Series performance with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The alumni group heckled the current Fresno State team, joked throughout the game and only on occasion would follow the written batting order.

All the way, the Fresno State team could not take the game lightly and would try to drown out the trash talking from the opposite dugout.

During the intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, Fresno State's red and navy teams both shuffled in and out of the home dugout along the third-base side.

But besides a few congratulations here and there when teammates hit home runs or made impressive defensive plays, the atmosphere stayed serious.

"You know, we've got a big season ahead of us that we need to stay focused on," said Mendonca, who went 1 for 3 in batting cleanup for the red team and hit the game's first home run. "We've got high expectations for this year now that we've won back-to-back [Western Athletic Conference] titles.

"Today was a good start."

Others to hit homers Saturday were WAC Preseason Player of the Year Steve Susdorf (red), new center fielder Gavin Hedstrom (red) and Nick Hom (navy), a freshman from De La Salle-Concord.

Saturday also was the debut of the new look at Beiden Field, with the stadium having been revamped during the offseason with new red seats. The metal bleachers behind the first-base line have been removed with plans to put in a grass berm.

Fresno State opens its season hosting UC-Davis on Friday.The reporter can be reached at banteola@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6362.

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