Whether they're sophomores or freshmen, Mott Community College Bears baseball players certainly learn a thing or two from their annual spring trip to Florida.
The Bears, one of the MCCAA East's teams to watch this season, were battered in the Sunshine State, posting a 1-8 record against elite-level junior college programs.
Although they won just once, the Bears returned to Michigan feeling like they've bonded with teammates, further developing a better sense of what's to come during the rigors of the spring season.
Former Wyandotte Roosevelt star pitcher Devon Jones says the trip afforded a reality check. Despite playing with the Bears in the fall, the trip to the Lakeland and Orlando areas served as a "welcome to college" tour of duty.
"It hit me (that I'm in college)," said Jones, who was an All-Region standout with the Wyandotte Roosevelt Bears. "The first time I pitched (Sunday) -- after the second inning -- I got rocked. Tuesday and Friday (of this past week), I pitched lights out."
The college scene is far different than high school ball. Jones was dominant as a prepster, but even great high school players experience an adjustment period once they hit the college ranks.
"You feel like there's more on the line," said Jones, who struck out three batters in a one-hit, one-walk, four-inning relief appearance March 15 versus Community College of Rhode Island. . "You have to be more responsible. You have to focus more. You have to give 110 percent on every single play -- can't make mistakes like you could in high school and get away with them."
Corey Lewandowski, a former All-KLAA second-teamer with the Hartland Eagles, adds to the Bears' sturdy rotation with great command and a powerful left-handed delivery. However, even Lewandowski recognizes that upping his level of play is mandatory now that he's taking the hill in college.
"You have to go out and pitch your buns off," Lewandowski said. "There's no goofing around when game time starts. In high school, I could play with batters. Now, in college, I have to focus on every single pitch."
Lewandowski says the trip to Florida was a "for sure" learning experience, a lesson that he'll take to heart for the remainder of his baseball career.
"(The trip) helped get all of the nerves out," said Lewandowski, who turned in two innings of one-hit ball March 17 against Gloucester CC (New Jersey) . "You pretty much learn not to leave pitches up or else you're going to get hit pretty bad."
Baseball is a meaningful part of sophomore Joe Killian's life. His father is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, and his two older brothers, Danny and Billy, have had successful careers in the minors.
He's not easily shook when it comes to playing, but even he remembers the value that the Florida trip provided for him as a freshman. Now in his second year with Mott, the former Chippewa Hills Warriors star still takes notes as a way to prepare for in-state competition during the spring.
"(The trip) makes us better for the league season," said Killian, a rocket-armed Bears right fielder. "(My first time to Florida) I didn't know what to expect. It was more like an experience for me as a freshman...getting into the swing of things."
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