STATE COLLEGE - Ready or not, the 2012 New York-Penn Baseball League season is right around the corner.
The Boys of Summer were back in town for the annual State College Spikes Media Day Sunday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and that means in less than twenty-four hours, the Spikes will open their season.
Opening a four-game set with the Williamsport Crosscutters Monday night at Bowman Field, the Spikes will return to Happy Valley for their home opener Tuesday night against the same Cutters.
"We have one advantage here in that we had a college season to work out all the kinks in the operation," said Spikes Vice President/General Manager. Jason Dambach. "But the first game is when you are firing up the concession stand, turning on the lights, and getting your ticket takers and parking people in place and fortunately for us, we have all of that ironed out."
In addition to the daily workers at the ball park, it is also a huge help to have a team with a staff that is easy to work with.
"Our guys have been great to work with," said Dambach. "The coaching staff and our players have been terrific to work with and we are really excited about getting it going Tuesday night."
A quick look at the opening day Spikes roster shows a good mix of six holdovers from the 2011 campaign, a group of seven players with Gulf Coast League experience and seven first-year players who were chosen in the most recent 2012 first-year player draft.
Heading into the 2012 season, Spikes manager Dave Turgeon feels that having that type of mix on the roster is a good thing as far as developing the squad for the season is concerned.
"I think that kind of mix is all good," said Turgeon. "I like the combination with the guys who are familiar with the league because they are out to prove something. For them, this might be it so they have to prove if they can do this or they can't. The new arrivals always bring energy and the new arrivals who have college experience bring stability as well and I like that combination of those things."
One of the most familiar names on the 2012 State College roster is Walker Gourley who will be starting his third stint with the Spikes as a utility infielder.
"Versatility is something that us infielders are going to have to maintain throughout the summer, just being flexible to play wherever they (the coaches) put us," said Gourley.
In his third year as a Spike, Gourley realizes that where he is assigned for the season is not up to him, but rather to the organization.
"All of those decisions are left up to the front office," he said. "My job is to come out every day and prepare to do my work to the best of my ability. When I get a chance to play, I have to play hard, set a good example and be a good teammate."
Another holdover who had a big impact on the success of the 2011 Spikes was catcher Sammy Gonzalez who hit .302 in an All-Star season. After suffering through an injury, Gonzalez has now been moved from behind the plate to the infield.
"I just want to thank God for the opportunity he has given me to be able to play baseball," said Gonzalez. "The Pirates just feel that moving me from behind the plate to the infield gives me a better opportunity to enhance my career."
Joining Gourley and Gonzalez as holdovers will be pitchers Logan Pevny and Joely Rodriguez and outfielders Alex Fuselier and Rodarrick Jones.
The 2012 season will also see 17-year-old pitcher Luis Heredia, who will become the youngest player to suit up at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, join the pitching staff. The Pirates signed Heredia out of Mazatlan, Mexico in August of 2010, and he quickly became a shining star in the Pirates organization. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound right-hander has been ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the Pirates system by Baseball America in both 2011 and 2012.
In addition to the holdovers, the opening day roster also includes eight players selected by the Pirates in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft three weeks ago. Headlining the group of newcomers is outfielder Barrett Barnes who was taken as a supplemental pick in the first round, the 45th pick overall in the draft.
Joining Barnes in the group of recent draftees are catcher Jacob Stallings (7th round, North Carolina) along with pitchers Pat Ludwig (10th round, Yale), Dalton Friend (12th round, Jefferson (MO) College, Thomas Harlan (13th round, Fresno State), Kyle Haynes (20th round, VCU), Lance Breedlove (23rd round, Purdue), and Josh Smith (25th round, Wichita State).
The Spikes are welcoming several more players from Latin America to Happy Valley, a group that includes Raul Fortunato, an outfielder and native of the Dominican Republic. Fortunato strung together a 36-game hitting streak for the Dominican Summer League Pirates in 2011.