On a day that the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament was originally scheduled to begin in Montgomery, Troy baseball coach Mark Smartt was looking ahead to next season.
And he’s got plenty to look forward to.
“I do have a feeling the lost season will generate a little more interest going forward,” Smartt said during a Trojan Talk segment Tuesday on a Zoom video conference. “I think the true fan of baseball truly misses the game. Plus, I also think it’s going to be an incredibly good product.
“You’re talking about returning experienced players maybe more than any time in our history. We were set to lose 11 players and replace them with 11 players. I’m going to have one of the older teams in the country. That experience I think makes our game look better.
“I think as a whole college baseball will have a banner year in 2020-21 because of all the returning people involved.”
Troy has six players who have decided to take advantage of an extra season of eligibility by way of a ruling by the NCAA for spring sports athletes due to COVID-19, which resulted in a shutdown of the spring sports seasons in March.
Opting to return for the Trojans include standouts Drew Frederic (shortstop) and Dalton Sinquefield (outfielder), along with pitchers Zach Moore, an Ashford High product, Lance Johnson, Ryan Fultz and Max Newton.
Five players who were eligible to return but decided to graduate and move on were pitcher Cory Gill of Cottonwood, pitcher Zack Lightsey, pitcher Will Carnley, infielder Hunter Mercer and catcher Briley Reeves.
Frederic was off to a sizzling start this season before the Trojans’ season ended after a loss to Southern Mississippi on March 10. He was hitting for a .409 average and had stolen 11 bases for Troy, which finished with a 9-8 mark in the shortened season.
“It wasn’t much of a decision for me to come back,” Frederic said during Trojan Talk. “I kind of made the decision that I didn’t really want to be done playing. Along with the guys I was in contact with that were seniors also that had decided to come back, we all just kind of got together and were like, ‘Why not give it another shot? What else are we going to do? I don’t want to go be an adult yet.’
“So yeah, just coming back with the seniors and the rest of the teammates next year is going to be awesome. I’m really excited.”
Smartt had no idea initially how many who had the option would return, but he’s certainly glad to get them back.
“It’s a unique scenario that we’re dealing with for all of these players,” Smartt said. “But for someone like Drew, when it (extra year granted) was announced, I really wasn’t sure how he would receive it.
“I wasn’t sure how the fifth-year seniors would take it. Are they going to come back for a sixth year? Does that mean graduate school? I could tell early on in my conversations with Drew that he was leaning that way.
“I had an old coach tell me years and years and years ago, ‘Keep the cleats on as long as you can. The day that you take them off, they’re off. You can’t put them back on.’ So I’m proud of all of the seniors that have chosen to come back.
“It’s not an easy decision. Drew talks about putting off being an adult, but he’s in the adult phase now, and this was an adult decision. I’m glad he’s going to be back, along with the other five players that announced they are going to be returning. I’m excited that they will lead the way for our 2020-21 team.”
Frederic, a native of Niceville, Fla., redshirted his freshman year, thus next year will mark his sixth at Troy.
“I’ve enjoyed my time more than anything in the world,” Frederic said. “Like the first five years, if you would have told me I was going to be here for six years, I would have told you you’re crazy.
“But right now, I couldn’t be more thankful for it and I’m really looking forward to having another experience of college, even if it’s a different scenario, because I’m going to be 24 in the fall. So I’m going to be one of the older people on campus, but I’m really going to be looking forward to it.”