The field is green, the dirt is soft, the weather is nice, the players are here and so are the coaches. The only thing missing from Coral Seymour Memorial Park is the roof and walls of the grandstands.
While the Peninsula Oilers organization continues to scramble to prepare the place in time for opening day, the feeling of normalcy has seemingly found its way back to the clubhouse and bullpen. Much of that has to do with the return of the actual baseball players, as a large chunk of the roster arrived Thursday evening from Anchorage.
Fierce winds ripped the roof and walls off the press box that sits center stage behind home plate a week ago, leaving general manager James Clark and head coach Kyle Richardson working to clean up, with a lot of additional help from volunteers.
“It’s been tiring,” Richardson admitted. “It’s just been a lot of work getting the field ready, more than usual with the grandstand problem.”
Richardson said he and Clark have worked 10-hour days since Monday, with some days going 13 hours long, but the organization plans on being ready for today, when the Oilers open their season at 2 p.m. with a nonleague game against the San Francisco Seals.
The Oilers will play the Seals four times in four days before taking on the Lake Erie (Michigan) Monarchs and the Oceanside (California) Waves four times each as well.
Richardson said that even though the destruction caused by the high winds put preseason preparations behind schedule, the onfield product will not be affected.
“I don’t want to involve (the players) at all with this mess,” Richardson said. “They’re here to focus on baseball, not to be a construction crew. If they have to help, they will, but we’re trying not to involve them.
“We’ve tried to do as much as we can, we’ve gotten people from Wildwood (Correctional Center) to help out us with the cleanup of the debris, but these guys, we’re just having them play.”
Stacked on top of the work to clean up the mess the wind left is the addition of two newly formed divisions in the Alaska Baseball League. The American and National league divisions have now taken the six ABL teams and grouped them into two divisions of three teams each. The Oilers are in the American league with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks and the Anchorage Bucs, while the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, Mat-Su Miners and Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks make up the National league.
That means the Oilers will play the Goldpanners and Bucs 10 times each this summer, but will face the Pilots, Miners and Chinooks only five times each.
“It’s weird,” Richardson said. “So when you’re looking at it, it’s the Bucs and the Panners, but you also can’t drop those games against the Chinooks or the Pilots or the Miners.”
Because there are only three teams in each division, Richardson said the Oilers are shooting for a .500 or better record. For example, a 6-4 mark against a divisional opponent would stand a good chance of winning the division since that opponent will be two games behind the Oilers and will need to make up the deficit elsewhere.
“It’s going to be a war of attrition,” Richardson said. “I don’t really see one team going 8-2 or 10-0. It’ll be closer to .500. If you can go 7-3, I think that’ll put you way ahead in the standings.
“And if we take care of business outside our division, we’ll be OK.”
The Oilers will start their ABL schedule June 23 with a weeklong roadtrip against the Bucs, followed by two games at the Glacier Pilots and a Sunday doubleheader against the Goldpanners on June 29.
The first ABL home game won’t be until July 1, when the Oilers take on the Chinooks in a three-game series. The ABL showcase games in Anchorage are scheduled for the weekend of July 18 to 20, with the last day set for the ABL Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
“I feel like we’re going to have a lot of fun this summer, and that’s what this is about,” Richardson said.
The second-year head coach, who is an assistant coach at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he learned a lot from his first go-round in 2013, which he hopes will help him prepare better for 2014.
“We had a lot of tight ballgames where something didn’t go our way and it would stick with me for a day,” Richardson said. “I would go out to the field upset from yesterday and try to motivate the guys to do better today. It’s baseball, it happens, and you gotta let the past go.”
There are currently 11 pitchers, seven infielders, four outfielders and two catchers on the 2014 Oilers roster, but there are exactly zero players returning from last year, and as a brand-new team, Richardson has only a foggy idea of what the team will look like.
A few players went to the Cape Cod League. Names such as Andre Mercurio and Sam Moore. Mercurio was the leadoff hitter for the Oilers last summer, and Moore recently broke the Big West single-season saves record with 21, playing for UC Irvine in California.
“They’re all young,” Richardson described. “We have a lot of true freshman, but a lot of talent.
“Compared to last year, I’d say we’re gonna be more offensive, but I don’t know how consistent it’s going to be. You never know, but these guys are hungry, they’re young, and it’s going to be interesting.”
The 2014 squad will also be sporting a bigger look as well.
“They’re huge,” Richardson said. “When they came off the plane, I felt like midget. So we have size, we have physical bodies this year, more than last year.
“Hopefully it translates to power.”
Nine of the 11 pitchers on the current roster are listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, with Soldotna product Mitchell Daugherty topping the charts at 6-6. In fact, 15 of the 24 players are listed at 6-2 or higher.
Infielder Ethan McGill is the oldest player at 22 years old, and Daugherty is the youngest at 18.
“We have guys that can swing it that won’t be mainstays in our lineup, but they’re going to be contributors in spots that you don’t normally get production from,” Richardson said.
On the mound, Jeff Paschke of USC will probably see time as a closer, and Sean Mason of Appalachian State will also add depth to the bullpen.
“I have no idea what they’re gonna do, and that’s where I think we’ll have the possibility to be the most inconsistent,” he said. “But I think our bullpen will be solid. They’ll throw strikes and get guys out, and be able to close out a lead once we get it.”
Richardson added that Mason threw a complete game against Clemson but lost 2-1 on the road this year, while teammate Dallas Devrieze has “shut down some of the best teams on the East Coast.”
Even if the team isn’t quite on the same page yet on the field, it can be assured they will be soon. Richardson noted that on the bus ride from Anchorage last Thursday, the group had already broken the ice and were well on their way to teammate status.
“I was actually surprised on the bus ride home, they were talking up a storm at the back of the bus,” Richardson said. “Usually, everybody’s tired after flying in, so at least we have a couple guys that are trying to mingle everybody and unite us.”