For most, February is a month full of love and all things red and pink. For Cal Athletics fans, it is all about the blue and gold as Cal baseball makes its return.
After a tumultuous 2021 season where they narrowly missed regional playoffs, the Bears will look to come out strong this weekend as they open the 2022 season at the MLB4 tournament. The tournament, hosted in Scottsdale, Arizona, has become a regular feature in college baseball as it lets four of the best teams in the country go head-to-head.
This year, the tournament consists of Cal, SDSU, Houston and TCU. Notably, this will be the first time all but the latter have participated in the MLB4 tournament. In this lot, the Bears will face some tough competition, as both the Horned Frogs and the Aztecs are building off of a 2021 season, in which they boasted overall records that exceeded the Bears’ 29-26.
Cal will open the tournament — and its 2022 season — Friday afternoon versus Houston. The following day, it will go head-to-head with TCU. Finally, to close out the tournament, the blue and gold will face SDSU on Sunday.
Of the three competitors, Cal has only competed against TCU in recent years. The last time these two faced off was in the pandemic-impacted 2020 season. In that road series, the Bears were ultimately swept by the Horned Frogs.
Despite narrowly breaking .500 last year and losing key players such as Quentin Selma and Darren Baker to the MLB, the Bears have plenty of reasons to be hopeful as they begin 2022 play — two of those reasons being outfielder Dylan Beavers and pitcher Josh White. The duo spent time with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and have received several preseason awards — most strikingly, both players were selected for the Golden Spikes Award Watch List.
“These guys have done a great job with the leadership, and they’ve got the experience,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu about Beavers and White. “They understand what to do to win games and put ourselves in a position to be in regionals.”
Though Pac-12 play and regionals are a few months away, the Bears have their sights set on victory. To avoid another year of disappointment, they must take control and set the tone for this season early.
The tournament’s opening game against Houston will provide the opportunity to do just that. As Houston is the only team to have a 2021 record worse than the Bears, Cal must take advantage and pounce on the opportunity to put itself ahead.
As a result of players graduating and choosing to play professionally, openings have been created in the Bears’ starting lineup. The MLB4 tournament provides the opportunity for young players to establish themselves on the team.
“We may rotate some guys and just try to see what some can do early,” Neu said. “We have some talented guys that may need to get some experience on the fly, but we feel comfortable with that.”
While they have some big shoes to fill, these young players are surrounded by just as many veterans, allowing Cal to have a relatively smooth transition. The blue and gold’s balanced roster puts the team in the perfect position to reach its goals and develop a winning culture.
Any fans looking to show the Bears some love in their first competition of the year can watch their game versus Houston on the MLB Network or via MLB.com.