There were times during the winter when Eckerd baseball coach Bill Mathews didn't want to leave the classroom. Mathews, who doubles as an ethics teacher, sometimes feared what awaited him when he walked from campus to the McArthur Center locker room.
His players were dropping like flies, and the season hadn't even started yet.
During the off-season, centerfielder Marc Coriaty ruptured his appendix. He will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Coriaty, a second-team all-Sunshine State Conference selection as a junior, hit .409 last year with a school-record 83 hits and a 28-game hit streak.
Then came word of three players with genetic physical disorders. Utility infielder Joe Albano is temporarily out with a congenital deformity in his left wrist that causes the bone to grow wrong.
Junior pitcher Jed Johnson has Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes the patella tendon to grow apart from the knee. And sophomore second baseman Pat Nugent has a tilted kneecap that causes the bone to cut into his right patella tendon.
Also, pitcher Matt Juergens has a groin pull and pitcher Tom Muldoon has tendonitis in his right elbow.
"We'll have to go with some younger players right now, but that might work out well." Mathews said.
"We'll be able to give the young guys some games, and that should help down the road."
When Eckerd begins the season today against Webber College, Mathews will get a chance to see how some of those young players look. Centerfielder Josh Beauregard, third baseman Brandon Soule and second baseman Jason Nydick, who left the team last year to study for medical school, are some of the newcomers who will get a chance early in the season.
There are still some returners who managed to stay healthy during the off-season. Shortstop Justin Loop is the top returner after hitting .349 with 50 RBI as a freshman. Loop, who played at Pinellas Park, was a first-team all-SSC selection last year.
"What I don't like is the fact that my 3-4 guys (Albano and Coriaty) haven't taken a swing yet," Mathews said. "That's a little scary. Right now, Justin Loop will take over the No. 3 spot. He's one of the best individual talents to come through here in a long time."
On the mound, Bobby Zicchino, Muldoon, Frank Burke and freshman Kenny Smith are early favorites for the four-man rotation. It will take a while for Muldoon to get back to full strength, but he should be one of the most reliable starters after throwing a team-high 70 innings last year.
Jason Canestrari and Mike Maiocco are likely long relievers. Smith also will be used in relief.
LAST SEASON: 30-23 overall, 11-10 in SSC (5th place).
COACH: Bill Mathews (ninth season, 206-240-2).
KEY LOSSES: C Tim Zack, LF Jim Wansor, OF Tom DiCicco.
KEY RETURNERS: SS Justin Loop (.349, 50 RBI); CF Marc Coriaty (.409); IF Joe Albano (.383); LF Chad Carbone (.338); RHP Tom Muldoon (5-5, 6.69 ERA); RHP Frank Burke (4-2, 5.58 ERA).
TOP NEWCOMERS: 2B Pat Nugent; OF Josh Beauregard; RHP Kenny Smith.