Eric Wedge will make his coaching debut with the Wichita State baseball team this Saturday when the Shockers play Nebraska in an exhibition game at 2 p.m. in Eck Stadium.
General admission tickets are $5 and season-ticket holders receive free admission, while WSU students are invited to a free tailgate starting at 12:30 p.m. with pulled pork, baked beans and hot dogs. The first 75 students will also receive a free vintage Shockers T-shirt, while the first 2,000 fans will also receive a commemorative Wedge trading card.
Wichita State wants to create a party atmosphere on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Wedge, who has returned to his alma mater from managing in Major League Baseball to try and return the Shockers to their past greatness.
And if you ask Wedge, it’s a question of when, not if.
“Now is the time to get on board because not too far from now, everybody will be,” Wedge said. “Right now is the time to get on board and watch the process and be a part of the process and watch us build and these kids continue to work and get better.
“This was a special program for a long time and it’s going to be a special program again.”
Wedge said WSU and Nebraska are likely to play 11 or 12 innings and he will try to play as many players as possible. He noted WSU is playing intrasquad games on Tuesday and Friday, which will affect which pitchers throw on Saturday. WSU also has another exhibition game on the slate, a road game at Missouri State on October 5.
After practicing for the last month, Wedge said his players are ready to play against another team. The fact that they get to play against Nebraska, a storied program in its own right, makes Saturday feel even bigger.
“They’re starting to figure it out,” Wedge said. “It’s a good group. They care about the right things. They’re working hard and they’re grinding to get better, but we still have a long way to go. Anytime there’s a turnover like this, there’s going to be a learning curve. There are going to be ups and downs, but more importantly they are looking to get better every day.
“Without a doubt, Saturday is a special day for us in a lot of ways. It’s the starting point for these young people and myself. Regardless of what happens, we’ll have something to work off of and that’s a positive.”
WSU has five seniors on the roster, including returners in Alex Jackson, Jacob Katzfey, Preston Snavely and Tommy Barnhouse.
Wedge declined to mention any names when discussing who has become the team leaders this fall, but he did say “three or four” of the upperclassmen have risen to the occasion to fill the void.
He also didn’t want to single out any specific players who have impressed him this fall, but did speak generally about the team.
“There have been some pleasant surprises from the younger group of kids,” Wedge said. “And I think we’ve seen some things from some of the older guys that maybe they didn’t even see in themselves.
“But our consistency has to be better. Our bad has to be better for our good to be great.”
Saturday is the first step along that process with the regular season still five months away.
“Right now we’re making sure we expect our very best every day,” Wedge said. “Sometimes your very best, you come up a little bit short, but that doesn’t take away from that day. There are days when you can win and get worse and days you can lose and get better.
“Until you dig for those things, you don’t really know what you have inside of you. It’s our job to help bring that out of these kids and it’s their job to be accountable and be good teammates along the way.”