School may be out for college ballplayers, but for those competing in the Alaska Baseball League, the summer is a perfect tool to sharpen their skills and keep their focus.
The Peninsula Oilers season will get underway today at 2 p.m. at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, when the Oilers face the Anchorage All-Stars in a nonleague exhibition game. Starting Tuesday, the Oilers will be playing the San Francisco Seals for four straight days, all nonleague games.
“We played them last year and they were good,” said Oilers coach Kyle Richardson. “These guys better not take them lightly, but hopefully it’ll be good to get that win here.”
The first official league game is June 19 against the Mat-Su Miners in Kenai. That’s when it becomes business time.
Richardson, who is not quite 26 years old, took the head coaching job this year after two summers in an assistant role, and will be replacing John Stevens. He said he is prepared for the season and hopes his team is willing to play hard under his guidance.
“We have a good group of guys here that want to play hard,” Richardson said during a recent practice. “I don’t know if it’s about wins and losses, I just want guys to play hard for me. It’s tough to do for the summer, because guys get away from their coaches. As long as they want to come out and compete every day and don’t lose their focus by Game 25, then I’ve done my job.”
A 40-game schedule in a summer league that may not matter much to some may lead to apathy, but to Richardson, a former ballplayer himself, he’s looking to put the team in a good position.
“I’ve played at the level these guys are at, and I don’t think you can get through to some of these guys if they don’t believe you know what you’re talking about,” he said. “The fact I’ve played at the junior college level and have had success there, it helps.”
Richardson played for Division I Cal State, Bakersfield in 2009 and 2010, and describes himself as a year-round baseball enthusiast. That passion should bode well for the team.
The Oilers produced a 21-19 season record in 2012, which left them tied for second in the ABL standings with the Anchorage Bucs. Anchorage’s other team — the Glacier Pilots — took the pennant last year with a 25-14 record.
This year’s Oilers squad will feature a stacked hitting lineup, as Richardson pointed out a few players who can bring the power.
“I think we have a little better offense, a little more power than last year, and on the hill, we have a lot of strike throwers,” Richardson said. “But until you see them get in uniform against an opponent, it’s really hard to tell.”
Some key hitters will be in the middle of the lineup, according to Richardson, and will include Adam Sonabend — a first-team all-conference player out of Eastern Michigan University — Andre Mercurio, Dillon Dobson and Noah Holmes, the latter two each being from Appalachian State.
Coach Richardson mentioned pitcher Billy Strode will be getting time on the mound, which will be important when he gets here.
Strode is currently playing in the NCAA tourney with Florida State, and isn’t expected to be in Alaska for at least another week as the Seminoles advance through the national tournament.
Until then, players like Sam Moore, Michael Coates and Logan McAnallen will be leading the team on the mound.
“I expect us to win. We come in to have fun, play some good ball, and win,” Coates said during a bullpen session. “It looks like so far, we’ve got a solid defense behind us. Pitching, we only have a few guys so far, so we might struggle with that at first, but as long as we take care of things on the offensive side, we’ll be good.
“I’m definitely confident. We were taking some ground balls yesterday, and I could tell those guys knew how to pick it and play some good D.”
McAnallen said that there’s no reason the team should not be confident as the season dawns.
“The guys behind me on the mound are all great guys, and Kyle as our coach this year brings a lot to the team,” McAnallen said. “I feel like I’ve gotten more from Kyle than in the past. He’s given each of us a job, something to accomplish this year.”