The BYU baseball team took the mound Feb. 15, kicking off a new season. However, the start of the season is the beginning of the end for nine of the team’s departing seniors.
The team bid farewell to about half that number in 2018, sending off only five players. The departing seniors are Bo Burrup, Riley Gates, Brock Hale, Noah Hill, Brian Hsu, Black Inouye, Casey Jacobsen, Keaton Kringlen and Jordan Wood.
“It’s almost like they’re your kids,” Littlewood said. “I have three boys of my own, so it feels like they’re one of your own when you’re with them that much.”
The majority of the seniors started and ended their college careers with Littlewood. This has allowed Littlewood, who’s been the coach for seven years, to see their transformations firsthand.
“It’s fun to see them mature and progress,” Littlewood said. “Most of them are married. It’s cool to see them go from being a freshman to a mission to getting married.”
One senior in particular stands out to Littlewood.
“Brock Hale has been probably our most solid guy for all four years,” Littlewood said.
Last season, Hale earned a spot on the All-West Coast Conference First Team. This season, conference head coaches continue to see potential in the outfielder as he received recognition as a pre-season All-WCC honoree and is pegged to be the WCC Player of the Year.
Last season, Hale boasted a team high .342 batting average, accompanied by 40 runs and eight home runs.
BYU is expected to finish sixth in the league, according to preseason polls. The team slowly climbed up the ladder until reaching its peak in 2017 and becoming victors of the WCC. This allowed the team to compete at the NCAA regionals for the first time in 15 years. However, the team took a step backward in 2018, finishing the season with a 22-28 record.
A few departing seniors commented on how the team transformed over the last four years through the ups and downs.
Bo Burrup experienced a reality check while trying to balance baseball and academics upon joining the team as a freshman. Through trial and error, he maintained at least a 3.0 and received a bronze standing on the honor roll in July.
“The biggest thing is learning that when you’re at baseball, you’re making sure that you’re getting better every single day, and when it’s time for school, you go to school,” Burrup said. “Making sure that when you’re there, you’re really there.”
Remembering his own freshman year, Burrup goes out of his way to make sure the newcomers on the squad have a positive experience with the team.
“I want to be the guy to welcome everyone and make sure that they feel welcome and that they’re happy to be here,” Burrup said.
After three years and a collective 80 strikeouts, Burrup noticed how the team became more tight knit.
“Being all in is the biggest change. When I first got here, I felt like it was getting pieced together,” Burrup said. “But now, if you don’t do something right, the other guys are there to help you out.”
Burrup learned early on in his BYU baseball career that coming together as a team is a goal shared by Littlewood and his coaching staff.
“I personally changed from always looking to myself to looking out and making sure that the guys who need help have it and making sure that we win as a team,” Burrup said. “My biggest thing now is becoming a team and putting them first.”
Senior Black Inouye transferred to the team just last year. However, his BYU baseball roots go far deeper. Inouye’s father played baseball for the Cougars in 1982. Continuing the tradition, Inouye decided to transfer from the College of Southern Nevada.
Since joining BYU’s team in 2018, Inouye has appeared in 20 games and already recognizes a jump in his athletic abilities because of Littlewood’s training demands.
“Being on a good weight program has definitely made a difference in my life,” Inouye said. “Before this, I wasn’t benching or squatting super heavy, but since I got here I definitely noticed a big jump in my strength.”
Once the baseball season ends, Inouye is determined to continue in academia and will attend graduate school in the hopes of becoming a clinical psychologist. His end goal is to join the FBI.
Even with serious goals in the future, Inouye hopes his lighthearted personality leaves a legacy among his teammates.
“I want people to remember me as a funny, good guy,” Inouye said. “But I also hope they remember me as a guy that they could rely on when the game was on the line. I hope they want to emulate me when they play the game.”
Pitcher Riley Gates is also departing at the end of the season. Gates had an impressive record of 317 strikeouts coming out of high school. He received several offers from schools such as Stanford, Cal State Northridge, Arizona and LSU. Even with his talent, he struggled adjusting to the collegiate level.
“When I first came in from high school, I wasn’t really expecting much because you come from somewhere where you’re always the best,” Gates said. “Having to compete against those kids that were the best in their own area is pretty mentally and physically exhausting.”
His decision to attend BYU not only earned him a WCC championship title in 2017, but he also met his wife Madie Siddoway, a BYU soccer player, in the process. His post-BYU plans include supporting his wife in her aspirations to become a Division I soccer coach while also continuing his own baseball career. Gates is waiting to announce his plans until the end of the season. Until then, Gates is focused on the team’s goals for the season.
“One of the main changes that I’ve seen in this team is that the goal is set to not only win the West Coast Conference, but to go to Omaha now as well,” Gates said.