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Taking the swing of a lifetime

Photo courtesy of Northeastern Athletics.

The Northeastern baseball team will play the Boston Red Sox on Saturday afternoon in the club’s annual spring-training exhibition game in Florida. For senior co-captain Matt Miller, the experience brings back vivid memories, including the time the leftfielder chatted about hitting and college life with Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

“It’s one of those days when you feel like a little kid playing baseball,” Miller said. “This will be my fifth year doing it, and I’m just as excited now as I was the first time.”

On the first pitch of last year’s exhibition game, former infielder Ryan Maguire launched a home run. This year, the Huskies will help the Red Sox celebrate the opening of JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. Game time is 2:35 p.m. “Our players will be sky high,” noted head coach Neil McPhee.

The Huskies opened the season last weekend with an encouraging series against the  Jacksonville Dolphins. Though Northeastern lost two of three games, Miller said, “I saw a lot of fight in our guys.” McPhee was impressed by his club’s 8-1 victory in the series finale.

Back in Boston, McPhee said the mild winter weather allowed the team to practice outside for a couple weeks in February. Typically, the team’s first outdoor action of the season comes down in Florida. “It has really put us ahead in our preparation,” he said.

This year’s team features a balance of young talent (six of nine starters are freshmen or sophomores) and veteran leadership. McPhee said Miller — a two-year captain and the club’s No. 3 hitter — is one of the best pressure players he has coached in 26 seasons as skipper.

Last season, leadoff hitter Aaron Barbosa won the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Year award, batting .335, stealing a team-record 29 bases and posting a flawless fielding percentage.

McPhee said the team’s offensive output would hinge on its ability to manufacture runs with speed, timely hitting and smart baserunning. Conference play in the Colonial Athletic Association will be particularly important.

“Our goal is to make the conference tournament, and then go as far as we can to win the championship,” McPhee said.

Following Saturday’s matchup, the Huskies will stay in Florida to play a slate of games, including a double-header against Bowling Green State University. The club will kick off conference play next weekend when it travels to Virginia to face William & Mary.

Northeastern’s Office of Alumni Relations will also be hosting a pregame cookout outside JetBlue Park before the Northeastern-Red Sox game for an expected 750 alumni, students, family and friends – the event’s largest turnout to date.