EUGENE, Ore. -- The aluminum bats are pinging in Eugene again.
The University of Oregon is ready to begin its first college baseball season after dropping its program 28 years ago. The Ducks open Friday at Saint Mary's in California.
The team is coached by George Horton, whom Oregon lured from Cal State-Fullerton to restart its varsity. Horton coached the Titans for 11 seasons, taking the team to the College World Series six times. His team won the national title in 2004, and he was twice the national coach of the year.
"I love the challenge of developing young men individually, and I love the challenge of developing a team," Horton said. "And what really makes me go is the adrenaline rush and competing against someone else -- taking your philosophy and your fundamentals and taking it against somebody else."
At Oregon, Horton has had to build a program from the ground up in just 17 months. As a result, the Ducks are inexperienced -- 20 freshmen on a roster of 35.
"I'm pretty spoiled and pretty confident in myself and my staff," he said. "We've got good athletes here. It's just a question of whether they believe they're good enough. I think if they stay in character, from what I've seen, I do believe we have a chance to be competitive."
His players are realistic.
"There's going to be games where we get beat by 12 or so maybe, but we're going to come back and punch back and make sure it doesn't keep happening over and over," freshman second baseman Danny Pulfer said. "We'll take lumps this year, but we're also going to put on some lumps."
Freshman Tyler Anderson, a left-hander from Las Vegas, gets the start in the opener. He has had just six months to prepare.
Bringing back baseball -- and so quickly -- wasn't easy. Besides the nuts-and-bolts of putting together a staff, finding players among those who hadn't already been recruited to other schools, acquiring uniforms and equipment, and devising a schedule, the Ducks had no real home. Until recently, workouts were held at high schools.
The Ducks used to play at Howe Field, built in 1936. The ballpark was converted in 1987 to accommodate the softball team. So the university built an $18 million ballpark in the shadow of Autzen Stadium. Ground was broken in August.
When complete, PK Park will seat 4,000 fans. The first phase was finished so the Ducks could host defending national champion Fresno State for a three-game series starting Feb. 27. The second phase will start after the season, when temporary bleachers will be replaced with a permanent grandstand.
The Ducks were the only Pac-10 school without baseball. Oregon last fielded a team in the 1980-81 season, but afterward was relegated to club sport because of budget constraints.
In recent years, college baseball has enjoyed a higher profile in the state because of Oregon State, which won back-to-back College World Series championships.
Oregon's decision on baseball was not without controversy. To make room, the Ducks discontinued their wrestling program following the 2007-08 season and added varsity women's competitive cheer.
Proponents for the wrestling team filed a lawsuit against the school, which was dismissed last October. Supporters of Oregon wrestling included a son of author Ken Kesey, himself a former wrestler.
Some also questioned varsity competitive cheer, which is not recognized as an NCAA sport. The team has not yet started competition and is separate from the school's cheerleaders and dance squad.
Overall, however, the decision to bring back baseball has been met with enthusiasm. So far, 1,700 season tickets have been sold, and the home opener against the Bulldogs was a sellout. Only standing-room only tickets remained for the rest of the opening series.
The first intercollegiate sports event played on the University of Oregon campus was a baseball game in 1877. The Ducks made it to the College World Series in 1954, but were eliminated after losses to Arizona and Massachusetts.
Horton is excited about building his own tradition. "Although we're young," he said, "we're looking forward to matching up our team with the other teams and seeing where we're at."