The Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League open their 32nd season of collegiate summer baseball tonight at 7 at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
"The people are great, the field is in great shape it looks awesome," said Oilers head coach Mike Coutts as he put his squad through its paces earlier this week. "I'm just anxious to get playing."
Coutts, in his first year with the Oilers, comes to the ABL after a successful run coaching in the Cape Cod (Mass.) League, winning a pair of titles in six seasons with the Cotuit Kettleers. Coutts also served as an associate head coach at the University of Maine and currently owns a pair of Frozen Ropes baseball and softball training centers, where he works with players of all levels.
This year's edition of the Oilers features a mix of old and new: Coutts' staff includes first-year assistants Wes Davis and Jason Alamo as well as returning pitching coach Thad Johnson.
The Oilers also will have several familiar faces on the field, including pitcher Brian Chambers, infielders Nick Kliebert and Eric Newby, and outfielders David Newby, Nathan Faulkner and Rocky Laguna.
"I'm looking forward to another summer like we had last summer," said Eric Newby. "... This is a really good group of guys. Last year we had great guys. So far, it seems like it's going to be the same again."
The Oilers compiled a 27-18 record last season and were 21-14 in ABL play, finishing in a tie for second in the league standings and missing out on a trip to Wichita, Kan., for the National Baseball Congress World Series by virtue of a tie-break.
A trip to the NBC tournament this year will be even tougher to come by as only the league's top team will earn a berth.
Before thinking about a postseason road trip, though, the Oilers will be using their early season homestand they have nine games scheduled against nonleague teams starting with Stockton, Calif., tonight as a chance to get used to new teammates and coaches as well as adjusting from metal to wood bats before jumping into league play.
"We're mostly just trying to get accustomed to what the kids do, how they play and how they react," said Coutts. "They're getting to know me and the other coaches."
Coutts said many college players spend time working with a wood bat at school because they know they'll use them come summer, but said that taking some cuts in a live game will be a good challenge.
Ty Dunham, a pitcher from Central Michigan, will get the start on the mound in tonight's opener.
"I'm excited to get going and get the season started. I hope we can do well," Dunham said.
Dunham said he wasn't sure what to expect in Alaska, though a college teammate played in Anchorage and told him the trip was worthwhile.
"He said it was one of the best experiences he's had," Dunham said.
Dunham said he wants to play well for his team and to give the community a team to be proud of, but also hopes to absorb as much knowledge as he can this summer.
"Anything I can pick up and take back there's a lot of good people up here. I think I can learn a lot," Dunham said.
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