They wear the black and orange. Their uniforms bear the Tigers logo. On most spring afternoons, they can be found practicing on the emerald green grass and red dirt of Anderson Field.
And yet, the members of Occidental’s junior varsity (JV) baseball team are not listed on any official roster and do not have their statistics officially recorded. But what they do have is a purpose within the system to develop players for the varsity level.
There were just six practice squad players in 2010. They practiced three times per week and joined varsity practice once or twice per week.
“They were kind of disconnected from the program even though they were practicing with the varsity team,” varsity head coach Luke Wetmore said.
By 2011, enough players were on the practice squad to field an additional team, and Occidental joined Cal Lutheran as the only other SCIAC member with a JV program.
In his first year as the head coach of the varsity squad the same year, Wetmore was unsure about how to integrate the JV team into the structure of the program, as the transitional, young unit was without its own identity.
“The talent level wasn’t outstanding,” Wetmore said. “We were still getting a feel for how we were going to implement them into our varsity practices and there was kind of some crossover.”
In its first season, the JV team scheduled eight games, many against out-of-state teams like Ithaca College and in-state community colleges like Antelope Valley College. This year, the team has scheduled 14 total games that include both in-state and out-of-state opponents.
The JV team has provided opportunities to players like walk-on Jeff Johnson (junior), who has been a fixture in the outfield throughout the program’s three-year existence.
“For me, I didn’t think I’d be playing baseball at this point in my life,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make a team or anything.”
Despite only playing a handful of games and batting for 90 minutes two or three times per week, Johnson remains motivated to improve.
“Not only should you work as hard as the people who are on varsity, maybe you should work a little harder to get to the level they’re at,” Johnson said.
Junior James Aubrey, who has also played JV for three years, said he would spend 30 to 45 minutes in the batting cages after practice.
“I remember sometimes I would be hitting in the dark off the tee and [Wetmore] would tell me to lock up the cages,” Aubrey said.
The team has become a cohesive unit this season, serving as the college equivalent to a minor league team. The team has its own coaching staff, employs a wide variety of drills at practice and has a set batting order and pitching rotation.
“It’s more structured,” student assistant coach Matt Hillman (senior) said. “Now, we’re actually doing drills that we implement at the varsity level, so they’re familiar with them when they get there, and they can jump right in.”
According to Wetmore, this new identity has resulted in elevated play, as evidenced by the team’s two shutout victories against UC Santa Barbara’s JV team on Sunday. They dominated the Gauchos in Game 1, winning 10-0 on the shoulders of Evan Lubin’s (sophomore) four-hit complete game.
“We’ve really seen it blossom into what we’d envisioned originally,” Wetmore said. “They’re actually playing on a college baseball team.”