Nothing dampens the opening day of baseball season quite like a deluge.
Sacramento State baseball coach Reggie Christiansen conceded he can’t compete with Mother Nature. The Hornets’ opener Friday night at John Smith Field against Washington State was rained out, but there was promising news amid the clouds.
“We’ll have a doubleheader with WSU on Saturday, starting at 4,” an upbeat Christiansen said. “It’s more disappointing for the players than anything. The longer I do this, coaching, the more you see everything. We practiced under the lights on Thursday, and it was great. The guys are ready to play someone else, but we can’t do anything about the rain. At least we can stop talking about the drought.”
Christiansen prefers to talk about the Hornets, a veteran group that will be on display 31 times at home this spring, including 21 times under the lights. And how fitting is this?
Sacramento is a baseball town, but it’s difficult to show off the product to a broad audience with so many 2 p.m. games. The River Cats thrive in Triple A because of night games. The annual high school baseball playoffs at Sacramento City College’s Union Stadium are festive because of night games.
Sac State had its first game under the lights in May, a memorable night for a program that has been in place since the 1950s. The event brought back alumni from over six decades.
The Hornets are worth a watch. They return seven starting position players and three starting pitchers for a program picked by coaches to place third in the Western Athletic Conference. Pitchers Justin Dillon, Chad Perry and Austin Ragsdale, and infielder Brandon Hunley, are mainstays from the school’s 2014 WAC championship team that played in an NCAA Regional.
Dillon will start on Opening Day. Ragsdale is eager to take the mound after injuries limited him to three appearances in 2016. Max Karnos went 7-3 last season and was 6-2 in WAC play.
Christiansen, entering his seventh season, has been a masterful recruiter for Sac State, mining the state for gems. He has 15 players from the greater Sacramento region on the roster. Christiansen offers no promises to recruits, except a chance to compete and make program history.
A Ferndale native, Christiansen has been pursued by other college programs but signed an extension that keeps him in Hornets green at least through 2021. The two-time WAC Coach of the Year has led the Hornets to five successive 30-win seasons and two conference crowns.
“There were periods where schools came after me, but my wife (Amber) and I are committed to this city and school,” Christiansen said. “Our kids (Ava, Reese and Ryan) ride their bikes to school. They have friends here. I want to see this program grow, to play in the NCAA Tournament every year.
“And (Thursday night) was the four-year anniversary of when we upset Texas, when Sutter McLoughlin had his first college appearance – 10 pitches and five outs. He was at practice to visit. There’s no way I can walk away from those experiences, and we look forward to creating new ones.”
Sac State has won 168 games the past five seasons, more than Cal, Fresno State, Long Beach State, Pepperdine, Stanford and USC. But ever the perfectionist in an imperfect game, Christiansen said he had something of an off campaign in 2016, taking the heat for a team that went 30-28 overall and 16-11 in WAC play.
“I did not handle it very well,” he said of the season. “Not on the baseball side. I was fighting so hard to get our field done, to get the lights finished and done. I’m not a patient person. I’m getting better, though, and I’m really encouraged with what’s going on here at Sac State. I’m very encouraged with our team. It’s a great group. They’re extra-motivated to do well, to play.”