Don’t expect the time-honored baseball tradition of smashing a shaving-cream pie into the face of a player being interviewed after the game to surface often at Hoglund Ballpark, home of the Kansas baseball team, this spring.
This team is so young it’s not a given that all the players would know how to get the shaving cream out of the can.
The Jayhawks didn’t play young, though, in their home opener Tuesday afternoon in an 11-1 victory against Omaha.
“This is my 23rd year at the Division I level and this is the youngest Division I team I’ve ever coached,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said. “How many freshmen were in the starting lineup, six?”
Six, including the starting battery, the third baseman and second baseman.
Nobody’s future looked brighter than hard-throwing, 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander Ryan Zeferjahn out of Seaman High in Topeka.
Three days after facing five batters from The Citadel in relief, Zeferjahn took the mound for his first collegiate start on a tight pitch limit.
Because it was predetermined that he would not last the typical five innings needed for a victory, he was eligible to be rewarded with the 'W' and was after he limited Omaha to one earned run in three innings. He allowed five hits, walked one batter, hit one and struck out four.
The scoreboard routinely flashed 94 mph and in the first inning reached as high as 96. He’s been battling a bug, a factor in him running out of gas in a fourth inning that started with him hitting a batter and ended when the next hitter rapped a 90-mph fastball into center field.
“At times I thought he looked dominant,” Price said. “When he had the ball down in the zone at 90-plus it was pretty electric and he mixed in his breaking stuff.”
Price said if Zeferjahn had not made it clear to scouts his intention was to attend KU, unless he received a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $1 million, he might have been chosen has high as “the third or fourth round.”
Instead, he lasted until the 37th round and was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I had my mind pretty much set on coming to KU no matter what,” Zeferjahn said. “As a kid, I dreamed of coming here and playing, so it was my first choice to come here and go to school and play baseball.”
Zeferjahn said he has been to many basketball and baseball games at Kansas through the years.
“It’s pretty cool to finally be the one out here pitching with everyone watching,” Zeferjahn said. “I had a lot of family and friends here today.”
Price said Zeferjahn arrived at Kansas with 24 credit hours and plans to graduate as a junior.
“His mom and dad were both adamant,” Price said. “They wanted him to graduate from school and be completely prepared to go to pro ball. If he’s healthy and continues to develop, he’ll make more money than he would have made out of high school.”
Zeferjahn isn’t one of the weekend starters yet, but that could change.
“We’re going to bring him along on Tuesday and if someone falters on the weekend, once he’s prepared, we’ll definitely move him to the weekend,” Price said.
Jaxx Groshans looked quick behind the plate and blessed with a strong arm, both of which came in handy when with runners on the corners in the third inning Omaha attempted a double-steal. It failed when Groshans got the tag down at home in time for the out after receiving a throw from freshman second baseman James Cosentino.
“That was pretty fun,” Groshans said. “I’ll cherish that for a little while. Zef gave me a perfect pitch to throw, on the outside part of the plate. It actually got stuck in my glove a little bit, but I still made a throw, and Cosentino fired an absolute strike back to home plate. Having something like that happen, especially in your first game here at home in front of this crowd, that was a pretty good feeling.”
A native of Magnolia, Texas, Groshan called Kansas, “the best college visit I went on, such a great campus, a great atmosphere." He also visited Texas, Texas A&M;, Texas Tech and Ole Miss.
His bang-bang play preserved a 5-0 lead for Zeferjahn.
Opportunity knocked and Kansas answered in the second inning when Matt McLaughlin (2 for 4, two walks, three runs, three RBIs) hit a grounder that had inning-ending double play written all over it until it kicked off the heel of second baseman Jack Kalina.
That broke a scoreless tie and ultimately enabled a five-run inning. David Kyriacou (three hits, two RBIs) singled in a pair of runs, and Brett Vosik and Devin Foyle (two hits, two RBIs) plated runs with singles.
Four Kansas relievers — Blake Weiman, Gabriel Sotomayor, Chase Kaplan and Zack Leban — backed up Zeferjahn with six scoreless innings of relief.
Weimar, a left-hander, looked particularly sharp, striking out five without walking a batter in three innings for the Jayhawks (2-2), who resume their schedule Friday in with the opener of a three-game series at Stanford.