New faces for Larks summer debut
By NICK McQUEEN
A little more than a week ago, longtime Hays Larks manager Frank Leo looked to have a solid core group of returning players for the 2014 summer roster.
Just like every season, things have a tendency to change early on.
College postseason conference tournaments ran late, and some decisions weren't made until late in the spring, plus Leo has a handful of players still with their teams into the collegiate postseason.
So when the 2014 club takes the field Saturday in a 6 p.m. doubleheader against the Colorado Sox at Larks Park, Leo and staff will put the club through some "on-the-job training" to kick off the summer. Hays will have four games Saturday through Tuesday before beginning the long summer haul of the Jayhawk League on June 4 at Dodge City.
"It's kind of our training period to get the signal system put in -- offense, defense," Leo said. "Basically get to know the kids. We have a few returners, but this will give us an opportunity."
The Larks play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game (7 p.m.) Sunday with the Sox, then play a single game Tuesday against Newton at Larks Park.
"With all the college tournaments going through last weekend, it's kind of pushing us here a little bit."
Leo expected to have names like Ty Gilmore, David Owen and Ian Bentley back, but circumstances have changed that.
Owen, 2-1 last summer with a 0.61 earned-run average, could be back in July but pitched a lot of innings this spring in his first season as a starter. Gilmore, who batted .304 in 45 games for the Larks, hurt his knee in mid-May and Bentley, who jumped in the Larks all-time top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings (10.9), told Leo Thursday he wouldn't be available until July 1.
Plus a few newcomers and one veteran, Wichita State University's Zair Koeiman, won't be available until Monday.
"It's good to get these games in, especially when you don't have much practice time to put things in place," Leo said.
Also, Aaron Cornell is expected to be back for a fourth summer after batting .373 a year ago, but is still playing with Oklahoma State University in the postseason. Newcomers Gage Pickett, a right-handed pitcher from Southeast Louisiana, and Shane Willoughby, an infielder from Youngstown State, are still involved in the postseason.
This weekend's games will be about seeing what the Larks have in their newcomers, including Colorado School of Mines' Nate Ollinger, a first baseman/pitcher/outfielder, who was named to the all-RMAC first team at two positions (outfield/pitcher).
The Larks also have Bradley shortstop Tyler Leffler, who was all-Missouri Valley Conference second-team at the position this spring with a .354 average with 13 doubles and two home runs.
Right now, Kansas State University's Tanner DeVinney, who played well for the Wildcats early in the spring, is the Larks' only true option at catcher. The Larks also have a pair from Fort Hays State Unviersity in Kevin Czarnecki (third/OF) and Cooper Langley (first).
Note -- Saturday's opener is sponsored by Hays Medical Center, which is offering $1 hamburgers, hot dogs and water, and also will be giving away T-shirts. Sunday, the Larks will be honoring city and county officials.