New Corvallis summer baseball team ready to open season
By Brooks Hatch
CORVALLIS - Team president Dan Segel knows the fastest way for the new Corvallis Knights of the wood bat West Coast Collegiate Baseball League to become ingrained in the summer fabric of its new hometown.
Be competitive, be exciting, be entertaining and be affordable.
"While we've lost (three) projected starters to injury this spring, we feel real good about the kids coming in and expect to compete for a league championship in our first season in Corvallis," Segel said in previewing the upcoming season, which begins Thursday with a nonleague game against the Southern Oregon RiverDogs at Medford.
"We are absolutely thrilled with the team's reception here," since relocating to Corvallis from Gresham this past November, "and can't wait to get this inaugural season started.
"It's going to be a memorable summer at beautiful Goss Stadium."
Thursday's contest at Medford is the first in a six-game shakedown road trip to Southern Oregon and Northern California leading up to the June 14 WCCBL and home opener against the Bend Elks at Goss Stadium. Coach Matt Dorey said several players who will ultimately play for the Knights' Gresham Mountaineers farm club will fill in on the early road trip until projected regulars complete the season with their college teams.
"That team won't look anything like the team we'll run out when league play starts," said Dorey, who recently was named the new head coach at Mt. Hood Community College after spending the 2006-07 seasons as a Washington State assistant coach.
"All the kids from the quarter schools (such as Oregon State) can't show up until their last final exam is over."
Dorey expects the Knights to be adept at small-ball as the players make the adjustments from college's aluminum bats to the wood bats used in the WCCBL and other summer college leagues.
"We'll be pitching-driven," Dorey said. "We'll be able to run out a five-man pitching rotation, and when the schedule stacks up we can go to a six-man rotation.
"My big thing about the summer is keeping pitch counts and innings down, so (players) can go back to their schools in the fall and be healthy and be fresh. Running out six starters works for logistics, and helps keep guys healthy."
Dorey coached OSU pitchers Daniel Turpen, Mark Grbavac and Greg Keim with the Mat-Su Miners in the Alaska Summer League in 2006.
"He wanted you to get better, and he wanted to get better as a coach," Turpen said. "It made the whole team better. He wants you to compete, to try to win and make yourself better. He didn't want you to go out there and goof around.
"In summer ball you play six games a week. You'd pitch your one game a week and the relievers would go a couple times. Matt took care of us. He isn't going to overthrow you to get his wins. He takes care of his pitchers and makes sure they're ready to go when they get back to their school."
The complete starting rotation hasn't been determined but OSU lefty Blake Keitzman will be at or near the top.
"The nice thing about Blake is he's a strike-thrower not afraid of contact," Knights' pitching coach David Wong said of Keitzman. "He gets after people and makes them swing early. If you're a starting pitcher, you have to do that."
Right-handers Eric Massingham of Cal Poly and Brad Reid of Bellevue, Wash., CC and lefty Matt Way of Washington State are projected starters. Joe Kelly of UC Irvine is the anticipated closer.
An OSU signee, Reid led Bellevue to the NWAACC championship, made the NWAACC all-tournament and all-star teams. He was 7-1 with a 0.80 ERA.
Kelly was the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year, with six saves, a 3-1 record and a 0.68 ERA.
Here's a rundown of the other positions:
OSU's Erik Ammon, a Knights' returnee, is the projected starter, backed up by Rocky Gale of Portland and Corvallis native Jake Roy of Dakota Wesleyan.
"We'll run Erik out there until he tells me he wants out of the lineup," Dorey said of Ammon, who hit .243 in 23 games with the Knights in 2006. "He's a great kid and should be able to handle the staff.
"Gale's a good, young kid who can run and throw."
Projected starting second baseman Jonathan Hee of Hawaii will miss the season with a shoulder injury. However, 2006 Knight Brett Casey of OSU (.242, 0-10) and Drew Garcia of UC Riverside can fill that vacancy.
WSU's Cody Bartlett is ticketed for shortstop. He didn't hit as much as expected (.208, 2-16) as a freshman after a standout prep career in Kent, Wash., but Dorey said there's plenty of upside.
"He got worn out, and didn't make a lot of adjustments," Dorey said. "He'll have a good opportunity this summer to learn how to change his swing and get that edge back."
Third baseman Brett Morel of Cal Poly, the 2006 Knights' MVP, is expected to join the team on July 1 after rehabbing a shoulder injury. Morel was honorable mention all-Big West Conference this spring after hitting .332 with 17 doubles, five homers and 31 RBIs.
UC Riverside's Mark Samuelson and Pacific Lutheran's Jordan Post are the first basemen. Post is the younger brother of ex-Beavers pitcher Jeff Post; he hit .358 with four homers and 38 RBIs. Samuelson hit .282 (6-49) in 2007.
"Sam will hit 3-4-5, with power," Dorey said.
First baseman Matt Wycoff of George Fox is also a projected first baseman/DH/fourth outfielder.
Recent addition Nick Akins of Riverside Community College was the Los Angeles Dodgers' 13th-round draft choice in 2006 but didn't sign.
The Knights also have a line on Washington third baseman/outfielder Matt Hague, an honorable-mention all-Pac-10 selection (.353, 13-49). He's draft-eligible but if he doesn't sign he could join the team; he played for the Knights in 2005.
"I'd love for him to come," Dorey said of Hague. "He's the the best hitter in the Pac-10. With the Aug. 15 signing deadline, kids can play summer baseball and drive their stock up a little bit" if they're not happy with early signing offers. "It might be a good fit for the kid and us."
OSU's Braden Wells (.280, 0-3) is the anticipated center fielder.
"He'll hit in the top of the order every day, we'll get him as many at-bats as possible," Dorey said. "He's a tough kid, I like the way he plays."
Jesuit High graduate Austin Pearce of Notre Dame (.222, 0-1) was all-Metro League and all-state for the Crusaders in 2006.
"Everything I've heard about him is he's an athletic, strong, fast kid," Dorey said. "He's a guy who could develop into a player."
Corey Barthell of Cal Poly and Steve Sultzbaugh of Weatherford, Texas, JC will also contend for playing time.
The Knights placed third in the WCCBL in 2006 but didn't make the playoffs. This year, however, the league bas been divided into two divisions and the top two finishers in each division will advance to the playoffs.
The Knights were last in attendance in 2006, averaging less than 90 fans per game, far behind leaders Bend and Wenatchee, who averaged about 1,200. That prompted the relocation to Corvallis, where they will be a bigger fish in a smaller pond and presumably see a dramatic attendance increase.
Thanks to season-ticket sales, they've already exceeded last year's numbers without playing a game.
"We announced our relocation in November and got a late start on marketing," Segel said. "However, we've sold more than 140 season tickets and signed up more than 30 area sponsors.
"That's encouraging for this and next year."