Marlins set for ‘fun’ season
The Marlins’ practice at Port Aransas Community Park shows few signs of suffering from the University Interscholastic League’s introduction of a new bat, known as BBCOR, which reportedly has less “life” than the previous metal bats. The new bats were adopted in 2011 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the UIL approved them this year, saying they’d reduce the risk to pitchers who might not be able to dodge a line drive hit directly toward them.
But in a practice session the week after the season-opening Third Coast Tournament, Marlins baseball players hit half a dozen pitches over the fence.
More impressive, when coach Brian Flack called a “hit and run” situation, batters were able to get the ball on the ground behind the base runner – a strategic advantage in a game where a well-placed hit can advance, or even score, a runner.
The team had been together for only four days at the time of this practice because, in a 1A school, inevitably some of the baseball starters are involved in basketball post-season. Flack said he didn’t have his entire squad available to him for the Third Coast Tournament (March 1-3) until the closing game of the tourney on Saturday, March 3.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that even without some of the starters, the younger players filled in the gaps admirably. The Marlins lost their first game of the tournament to a 3A Aransas Pass team, but were 3-1 overall for the tourney.
“What could they have done if they’d had a full squad for the tournament?” we asked Flack.
He didn’t hesitate. “They’d have won all four (of their games),” he said.
“Guys came in (from the basketball post-season) and trickled in and took their positions and it was just like they’d been playing together four or five weeks, like all the other schools,” he said.
As Flack talks, the “ding” of the ball off the metal bat rings loudly in the background. He’s watching the younger players, the ones who filled in so capably during the recent tournament. But those aren’t the kids he’s going to depend on, he said.
“The leaders this year are going to be the returning starters,” he said, with no hesitation. “ There’s no one player I’m looking at. It’s going to be the returners who lead this year’s team.”
This season will be Tyler Pate’s third as a starter and twins Andrew and Alex Groseclose have started for two years. Pate was named to the Texas Sports Writer’s Association’s first team as a pitcher last year; Andrew Groseclose was on the first team as a second baseman and Alex Groseclose was named to the second team as a third baseman.
Jake Roberts called “about 90 percent of the games last year” as catcher, Flack said, and is an experienced starter this year. “He calls most of the games now.”
Those players, Flack said, are the ones who will lead the team this year.
“ They’re good kids,” he said. “They never have a fight. They’ve played ball together quite a bit.”
The Groseclose twins moved to Port Aransas their freshmen year, Flack said, and both are playing positions they hadn’t played before.
“Andrew had never pitched before he came here, and he was reluctant. Alex had never played that side of the field before he came here, and was all-state.”
Thomas Winton, another starter, had never seriously been coached at baseball until the seventh grade, Flack said.
Together, they’re expected at least to do “pretty well” in 2012.
Flack said he has three players coming up from last year’s junior varsity team, which won all its district games under the UIL’s 10-run rule. The 10-run rule says a team that’s ahead by 10 runs or more after the fourth inning can be declared the winner.
“I also have six – no, seven starters coming back from last year,” he said.
Is the district title a lock? No, not ever, Flack said. “Kenedy has pitching,” he pointed out. Teams can always upset favored squads. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.
As Flack talked, a sophomore at batting practice slammed a clothesliner over where the shortstop would have been in a regular game.
“Good hit,” Flack shouted.
“ Way to go,” colleagues around the batting cage echoed.
The Marlins are working not only to adjust to the new bat (“They’re doing pretty well,” Flack said), but also to an early season that will see them away from their home diamond until late this month. The Marlins’ first home game is Friday, March 23, a District 31A game against the Woodsboro Eagles. Between now and then, they’ll go to Sabinal for games against both Sabinal and Charlotte on the Sabinal diamond; to Fayetteville for a tournament that includes Shiner, Louise and Milano as well as the hosts; and to Kenedy for the district opener.
“They’re used to it,” Flack shrugs off the early season away from home. “This will be the sixth year in a row we’ve done it (traveled to open the season). We don’t play anything here during Spring Break, because nobody’s willing to come here. So we leave, getting away from all this stuff.”
Flask said the early-season traveling also prepares his team for the post-season , when they’re likely to have to hit the road for games against regional opponents.
“You’re going to have to be able to travel two, two-anda half hours in our region, which stretches from LaVilla to Eldorado to High Island. It’s like Louisiana to San Angelo to the Valley, so there’s no telling where you’re going to end up having to play.”
Anything else fans should know about the upcoming season?
“It depends on the kids, how district’s going to go,” he said. “They’re adjusting to the new bats. So far, we’ve only had all of them here for four days, and we’re doing all right.
“It should be exciting,” Flack grinned. “It should be fun.”