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UMass baseball coach Mike Stone trying not to dwell on 2017 being his final season

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

Tuesday afternoon was supposed to mark the 2017 home opener for the Massachusetts baseball team against Northeastern, but rain forced it to be postponed to a later date. When it is played, it will be the last home opener for UMass coach Mike Stone, who is retiring at the end of the season.

At first glance, the Minutemen (6-9, 2-1 Atlantic 10) are not off to an amazing start, but compared to how they have started in previous seasons, they are doing better. They just recently salvaged the final two games of their first A-10 series against George Washington after getting blown out in the first game 10-2.

The three-game series marked the last time Stone would coach the Minutemen at George Washington and two weeks ago marked his last Spring Break trip with the team as well.

Like most retiring sports figures, the season will be filled with “lasts.” The last time Stone faces a team, Stone’s last Beanpot Tournament and Stone’s last home-opening day. After 35 seasons coaching, 30 as the manager of the Minutemen, Stone has every right to get caught up in it all, but he won’t.

“No, I don’t think about that,” Stone said in an interview on Feb. 17. “I just think about what do we need to do as a team to get ready to play our best and to have to have the best team that we possibly can and I’ve done that every year.”

Though UMass has been fairly mediocre as of late, they still managed to put together seasons that keep them toward the middle of the standings. In fact, a UMass team has not finished in last place in the conference since 1984 – they finished fifth in their division that year, at the time the A-10 was separated into an eastern and western division.

When UMass fell to GW in the first game of the three-game series last Friday, it was the second consecutive blowout loss and the Minutemen’s record had dipped to 4-9. A 2-1 victory Saturday followed by a 10-4 comeback win Sunday had UMass coming home with 2-1 A-10 record.

This resiliency and toughness shown by the Minutemen is just an example of the impression Stone leaves on his teams.

“I mean he’s a work force,” senior outfielder Mike Hart said on Feb. 16. “He comes in early, he lifts every single day, he runs, he does the elliptical, he throws BP every day; I don’t want to say his age or anything, but it’s very impressive. So if you’re not working as hard as him, then I don’t know why you’re here.”

According to Hart, whether it is someone’s first season under Stone or fourth, everyone is putting in extra work to send him out on a perfect note.

“I know he wants to take as much as he can in this year because it is his last time being around, so we’re going to make that as fun as possible and it’s the most fun when we’re winning,” Hart said.

Stone, who came to the decision to retire last summer, said he just knew it was time to call it a career. With three quarters of the season still to be played, including the home opener, Stone is trying not to get distracted by this being his final season.

“I don’t dwell on the fact that it’s my last season, sometimes I think about it and I can’t believe it’s my last season.”

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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