Season preview: Kentucky baseball ready for new, challenging beginnings


Freshman pitcher Braxton Cottongame pitches during a team scrimmage on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather| Staff

Hailey Peters

Brand new challenges played out by a mostly new team in an entirely new ballpark is the trademark of Kentucky baseball’s 2019 season. The team, after ending in 2018 with some impressive feats, are ready and excited for opening day.

After a very successful year across UK athletics, head coach Nick Mingione said he hopes that his team can continue the victory stories with his baseball team in their new home, Kentucky Proud Park.

“It is absolutely a beautiful ballpark,” Mingione said. “It’s just a special place, and I’m excited for the Big Blue Nation… to be there with our guys.”

Despite having an entirely new facility to play the sport in and 22 new players joining the roster this season either as transfers or as freshmen, Mingione stresses that he, his coaching staff and his team are going to continue to be leaders in the SEC and in the nation with his “Student. Person. Player.” vision for success.

“As far as a team, I feel like we’re starting over,” Mingione said. “We have lost our two starting catchers, our first baseman, our second basemen, our shortstop, our third baseman, our left fielder… we may be a new team, but our team has been high trust and low maintenance… just a joy to coach.”

Several of the upperclassmen on the team have taken on the responsibility to help their new teammates become prepared for the rigorous schedule against high-caliber teams and feel proud of their growth as student-athletes within a record-setting team as far as academics and MLB draft picks are concerned.

“When I think about [all the new players], I think of all the older kids on the team whenever I was a freshman,” junior first baseman T.J. Collett said. “The role that they played for me was keeping me level-headed. So what I can do for the younger kids in this program is just making sure that I can get them to… stick with our plan and not try to do more than they think they have to.”

UK baseball’s 56-game schedule is filled with last year’s top five teams, several SEC rivals that shut them out in the previous season and College World Series runners-up, Arkansas. Mingione, Collett, and junior pitcher Zack Thompson “love” challenging schedules such as the one they’re faced with this season.

“In some ways I feel like this group that we have can be a better offense than we had a year ago,” Mingione said. “We can get some more opportunities to do the base running and base stealing now as opposed to then… I’m very excited to get into it and I know the guys are too.”

Kentucky baseball’s home opener will be against Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m., and will serve as the historic first game played at Kentucky Proud Park.