Grizzlies ready to hit the road

Georgia Gwinnett College head coach Brad Stromdahl found the positive in being temporarily homeless.

Because of heavy rains this winter, the baseball field wasn't completed in time for the start of the program's inaugural season this weekend. It is expected to be finished by the beginning of March, but for now, the Grizzlies are going on the road.

The easiest fix for the baseball team was to move some of its later road series to the front of the schedule.

So the Grizzlies get time to bond. Not a bad deal, anyway, for a brand-new team.

"The great thing, actually, about going on the road is we get to build some team unity," Stromdahl said. "You stay in a hotel, you eat meals as a group. It really builds a camaraderie that you can't manufacture outside of going on the road. That's really what the focus is for the first few weeks, to grow and to find out who we are -- and to, hopefully, be a gritty, hard-nosed team."

The roster is made up entirely of Georgians, including a number from Gwinnett. This county is rich with talent and Stromdahl was quick to take advantage. Among his first signings was catcher Andrew Prater, a 2010 Norcross product. On the heels of that came the addition of new graduates Billy Best (Peachtree Ridge) and A.J. Davis (Parkview).

"The talent pool we have, we wanted to get the best player available," Stromdahl said. "Because we only had a few months to recruit. Really we built our team around physical strength.

"We're not going to have a full team of 35 this year. We have about 25 kids on the team, so what we wanted was kids that could play multiple positions, are good people and good students. That's what we want to build the foundation of this program. I'm very happy with the crew we have in."

The initial challenge for Stromdahl when he set out to build a team from scratch was visibility.

"There's a lot of layers to it, but first and foremost is to get out there and promote and let people know we're here," he said.

Stromdahl credited the college's administration, from the president to the athletics director, with doing a good job of that even before he came on board in October 2011.

"The next step is getting them on campus to show them we have new facilities, look at GGC, look at the incredible growth we've had over the last six years," he said. "Once we start our season, that's the next element.

"The last year and a half, we've really had to do a lot of informing people that we have an athletics department and then letting GGC speak for itself."

Once they see the campus, the plans for the baseball and athletics complexes, it's not a tough sell.

"With the facilities the administration is building, you come in here with one of the top facilities in the United States from an NAIA perspective," Stromdahl said. "As a baseball field in Georgia, it's right up there with some of the best. So when kids see the facilities, see where we're located, being in such a hotbed of baseball, the hardest part is getting them to know that we are here since we're a new program.

"I think we're making a lot of inroads with that and really this season is going to create a lot of that. People are going to read about us, see our kids and it's going to promote itself by us actually playing."

That starts Saturday with a visit to Denmark, S.C., to play Voorhees. After that, it's trips to Truett-McConnell, Bryan College in Tennessee, Point University and Reinhardt.

"It's not necessarily about who we play, but how we play as a team," Stromdahl said.

Stromdahl, who was an assistant at Georgia State before coming to GGC, brought in junior college players and transfers to help build a well-rounded team.

"We have about six freshmen on the team and that was purposeful," Stromdahl said. "As we continue to grow, we want to bring in freshmen every year to build from within, but also we have to have some older, experienced players who have the at-bats and understand what it's like to play at a Division I or II institution.

"But at the end of the day, our leadership is going to be found on the field -- and that is yet to be determined. We're going to look to the older guys first to lead, but that doesn't mean a freshman can't lead."

The Grizzlies aren't eligible for playoffs until next season, but that hasn't diminished their enthusiasm for what's about to begin in earnest this weekend.

"We can't wait," Stromdahl said. "It's a great day for GGC baseball. It's a great day for the athletics department, just to start something we all came on board about a year and a half ago, to do. Really this year is laying the foundation of this program."