The Hope College baseball team hopes to get an early start on their season this weekend by heading south -- to southern Indiana that is.

Coach Stu Fritz's Flying Dutchmen will play back-to-back doubleheaders Friday and Saturday at DePauw University and Rose-Hulman Institute. Then, with hopes that Holland's snow-covered tundra will disappear, the Dutchmen hope to host Concordia, Mich. on Wednesday (March 14) before embarking on their annual spring break trip to Cape Coral, Fla. where they are scheduled to play 10 games between March 17-23. Then it will be back to Michigan for the start of regular season play.

The Flying Dutchmen are coming off a school-record fourth consecutive winning season. The Flying Dutchmen finished 19-16 last spring and are 87-56 the last four years. In seven seasons under Fritz the Flying Dutchmen have won four Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) championships and posted an overall 123-117-2 record. Hope was 9-9 in a very competitive league race, finishing in fifth place.

Described by Fritz as "young, but seasoned," the Flying Dutchmen return 17 letterwinners. The pre-season roster includes eight freshmen, nine sophomores, six juniors and four seniors.

The senior veterans are shortstop Sean Bateman of Saline (Saline HS), pitcher Nate DeVisser of Mattawan (Mattawan HS), first baseman Ed Gall of Saline (Saline HS) and outfielder Scott Houser of Portage (Portage Central HS).

Bateman achieved All-MIAA first team honors at third base as a sophomore and was a second team All-MIAA selection at shortstop a year ago. Houser was also an All-MIAA second team choice last spring.

Junior pitcher Mark Simonson of Holland (Holland HS) was Hope's only All-MIAA first team player last spring. He compiled a 4-2 record in league games and was 5-2 overall with a 3.02 earned run average.

Simonson is one of five experienced returning pitchers. Sophomore Matt Kirby of Williamston (Williamston HS) posted a 5-0 record in his first collegiate season, finishing with a team-leading 2.36 earned run average. The workhorse of the team last spring, senior Nate DeVisser was 5-6 with an excellent 2.45 earned run average and seven complete games. He had the third best earned run average in the MIAA (2.49) despite winning just one of seven league decisions.

Bolstering the pitching corps are junior Kevin Kittle of North Adams (Jerome HS) and sophomore Matt Widenmier of Midland (Midland HS). Kittle struggled his sophomore year (2-5) after posting a 5-3 mark as a freshman. Widenmier made seven relief appearances as a freshman.

The infield will feature four veterans. Joining Gall (first base) and Bateman (shortstop) will be junior second baseman Nick Grinzinger of Mt. Pleasant (Sacred Heart HS) and sophomore third baseman Casey Glass of Hudsonville (Hudsonville HS). Grinzinger led the 2000 team in hits (34) while batting .330 on the season. Behind the plate at catcher will be junior Rob Long of Holland (Holland HS) who led the team in home runs (4) last spring. Two transfers could make an immediate impact. Sophomore B.J. Maas of Jenison (Jenison HS/Grand Valley State) will see action at first base and as designated hitter while sophomore Kenny Papes of Scottville (Mason County Central/Notre Dame) will join a contingent of experienced outfielders.

In addition to Houser, the outfield includes three sophomore letterwinners -- Kyle Blackport of Grand Rapids (South Christian HS), Clisby Jarrad of Barrington, Ill. (Barrington HS) and Mike VanBeek of Hudsonville (Unity Christian HS). Jarrad led Hope in hitting as a freshman batting .541 (20/37) in mostly a reserve role. Houser and Van Beek tied the team lead in extra base hits (11).

Other returning letterwinners are junior pitchers Dave Lichtenberger of Lansing (Sexton HS) and Jason Montgomery of South Haven (South Haven HS) and sophomore shortstop Pat Murphy of Midland (Midland HS).

Freshman prospects include pitcher Ken Bart of Jenison (Jenison HS), first baseman Chad Boehm of Rockford (Rockford HS), catcher Ryan Hasten of Quincy (Quincy HS), pitcher Shannon Kohl of Jenison (Jenison HS), second baseman Justin Kribs of Janison (Jenison HS), catcher Eric MacKenzie of Alpena (Alpena HS), shortstop Aaron Quimby of Quincy (Quincy HS) and pitcher Christian Viel of Big Rapids (Big Rapids HS).

The 39-game schedule will have just 12 home contests, including three MIAA series highlighted by a season-ending set with defending MIAA champion Calvin on May 8-9.