HOPPERS EXCITED IN ANTICIPATION OF BIG CROWD ON OPENING DAY
Greensboro Grasshoppers vs. Greenville Drive 7:05 NewBridge Bank Park
from Bill Hass at www.gsohoppers.com:
Thereâ€™s nothing quite like Opening Day.
Throughout the country this week, major league baseball cities have been celebrating this annual rite of spring with ceremonies and special folks throwing out the first pitches.
Now itâ€™s the minor leaguesâ€™ turn, and TONIGHT the festivities will take place in Greensboro. The first chapter of the 2009 season will unfold in NewBridge Bank Park when the Grasshoppers host the Greenville Drive at 7:05 p.m.
â€œOpening Day is a special, special day, one of those things where everything starts brand new, everything starts fresh,â€ said Hoppers manager Darin Everson. â€œEveryone has got an opportunity with the big league teams, the minor league teams, everyone has got their shot.
â€œYou always want to get that first hit out of the way as a hitter, you always want to get that first pitch over the plate. Then thereâ€™s the excitement of youâ€™ve got a whole season to make something happen and to make a name for yourself as a player.â€
Players admit to a mixture of butterflies and anticipation. For many, having spent last season at Jamestown in the New York-Penn League or in the Gulf Coast League, the size of the crowd â€“ expected to be between 6,000 and 8,000 â€“ will bring added excitement.
â€œIn the Gulf Coast League we probably had about five people who would come to watch us play,â€ said Hoppers outfielder Isaac Galloway, who is 19 years old. â€œThis is going to be a big difference but Iâ€™m looking forward to it.
â€œIâ€™m getting real excited, just the fact that Iâ€™m playing pro ball. When I was younger I always thought it would be really cool to play in front of all these people. Now that itâ€™s happening itâ€™s kind of shocking.â€
For catcher Kyle Skipworth, one of Gallowayâ€™s teammates in the GCL last summer, Thursday will provide a memory in the making.
â€œThis will be the first time under the lights, with fans,â€ he said, â€œso itâ€™s the first time for a true pro baseball experience. It felt good walking down the tunnel with a jersey on, getting to strap on the cleats and hit for the first time. Youâ€™re like, â€˜Iâ€™m ready for this.â€™â€
To make the night more special, Skipworthâ€™s parents will travel from Riverside, Calif., for the occasion.
One player who should be used to a big crowd is Johnny Dorn, the Hoppersâ€™ Opening Day pitcher. He went to college at Nebraska, which drew up to 8,000 fans for baseball games.
â€œIâ€™ve heard thereâ€™s going to be a lot of fans out here and Iâ€™m ready to go,â€ Dorn said. â€œItâ€™s exciting when you get that chance and you just want to go out there and give your team the best opportunity to win.
â€œYour whole goal is to get to the big leagues and pitch in front of a big crowd, so doing that in college and other places helps a little bit.â€
The weather might turn cool after the sun goes down, but that wonâ€™t bother Dorn.
â€œIâ€™m from Nebraska, thatâ€™s all you need to know,â€ he said. â€œWe start (college games) in February and it could be at freezing when weâ€™re playing. Weâ€™ve shoveled snow off the field the day before, so Iâ€™m pretty used to it. Fifty or 45 degrees, thatâ€™s comfortable.â€
Eight players on the roster spent at least part of the 2008 season in Greensboro and another was here in 2007. The other 16 got their first look at the park during a workout Monday and came away impressed.
â€œThis place is awesome,â€ said the 19-year-old Skipworth. â€œThe park is beautiful, itâ€™s manicured just great, the backdrop for the outfielders is awesome. The clubhouse is just insane how nice it is compared to what weâ€™re used to down in the (GCL). Weâ€™ve got wood grain lockers, TVs in there and weâ€™re not used to that stuff. Everything is first class.â€
SCOUTING THE PITCHERS: Dorn, a right-hander, will be followed in the rotation by left-hander Brad Hand and then three right-handers â€“ Josh Roberts, Kyle Kaminska and Jose Rosario.
Dorn went 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA with Jamestown. He said he doesnâ€™t overpower batters but has four pitches he can throw for strikes and get ahead in the count.
Hand was the Florida Marlinsâ€™ second-round draft pick last summer and split his time in the GCL and in Jamestown. He went a combined 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA.
Roberts missed the 2008 season after Tommy John surgery. He pitched briefly with the Hoppers at the end of the 2007 season, going 1-0 in six games. Pitching coach Charlie Corbell said Robertsâ€™ first start will be â€œpiggybackedâ€ with Stu Alexander, who pitched here last year.
Kaminska spent last season at age 19 with the Hoppers, going 5-7 with a 6.54 ERA. Corbell looks for him to improve his consistency.
Rosario started two games with Greensboro at the end of last season, going 0-1.
â€œTheyâ€™re solid command guys who will do a good job keeping the ball in the ball park, even though this is a little bit of a hittersâ€™ park,â€ Corbell said. â€œTheyâ€™re going to force the issue.â€
Corbell wonâ€™t use a reliever on consecutive nights until the weather warms up. Brandon Todd, Jared Yecker and Pete Andrelczyk will share closing duties.
Todd picked up 12 saves, Yecker nine and Andrelczyk four at Jamestown.
The long relievers, who could also draw spot starts, are lefties Andy Loomis and Wade Korpi and right-handers Bryan Evans and Alexander.
SCOUTING THE POSITION PLAYERS: Everson likes the depth on this team and intends to use it. Several infielders and outfielders will play multiple positions and rotate through the starting lineup.
First baseman Ben Lasater showed some power in 2008 with seven homers in 117 at-bats in Greensboro and nine more homers in 207 at-bats in Jamestown, where he hit .324 and drove in 41 runs. Second baseman Daniel Pertusati hit .295 in the GCL, shortstop Joel Staples hit .293 at Jamestown and third baseman Paul Gran hit .322 with 14 stolen bases at Jamestown.
Emilio Ontiveros, who hit .270 in 77 games for the Hoppers, and Brandon Turner (.331 in 44 games at Jamestown) will get plenty of opportunities in the infield.
The 6-foot-4 Skipworth, last summerâ€™s No. 1 draft pick by the Marlins, will share the catching duties with Torre Langley. Skipworth hit just .208 in 43 games in the GCL, but hit five homers. Langley hit .209 in 71 games with the Hoppers.
In the outfield, Kernersville native Kevin Mattison hit .250 with 14 stolen bases at Jamestown and will share center field with Galloway (.286 in GCL). Galloway will also play in right field. Everson has Justin Bass (.253 in Jamestown), Justin Jacobs (.230 with the Hoppers) and Brown Summit native Jeremy Synan (297 in Jamestown) to divide time as the corner outfielders.
About 60 percent of the roster was with Everson last summer in Jamestown, where the Jammers went 47-29 in the regular season and advanced to the championship series of the playoffs.
â€œThe important part is we have guys who have had success in the minor leagues,â€ Everson said. â€œWe were able to have some success last year, we jelled really well and weâ€™re hoping that translates into something this year for us.
â€œThereâ€™s a big crew that came from last yearâ€™s squad. They felt it, they know what itâ€™s like, they hopefully expect to do some good things now. And if your expectations as an athlete are relatively high, then hopefully they will come true.â€
Bill Hass has watched and covered minor league baseball in Greensboro since 1979.Contact him at email@example.com