PITTSFIELD -- Greg Marchbanks is no stranger to many of the Berkshire Force softball players. As Pittsfield High School's softball coach, Marchbanks has coached many of the Force players during the spring, when they were Generals.
It's not just his familiarity with players, though, that has made him an asset as a hitting instructor for the team.
"He really pinpoints where we're making mistakes," Force shortstop Allie Hunt said Thursday. "I tend to come around the ball, so he's helping me keep my hands in and really drive through it."
Whatever Marchbanks has done in the last couple of weeks certainly seems to be working early in the Babe Ruth Softball 16-U World Series. Through two pool-play games, the Force have scored 17 runs and are 2-0. Berkshire is batting .368 as a team, with a .456 slugging percentage.
Marchbanks was watching the Force in a tournament in Lowell a couple of weeks ago and noticed some players having trouble with their swings. Force coach Jim Clary approached him, and the two started talking about hitting.
"He asked me if I'd like to [work with them]," Marchbanks said Thursday as he threw pre-game batting practice in a cage at the Doyle Softball Complex. "We've really dedicated the last couple of weeks to working on their swings."
Just as some of the players didn't know Marchbanks -- the Force feature players from Wahconah, Taconic, St. Joseph, Mount Greylock and Miss Hall's schools as well as Pittsfield -- he didn't know all of them, either.
"Was I the evil guy? I don't know," Marchbanks joked before adding, "They seem to have taken everything I say well."
Hunt certainly has. During batting practice Thursday, she pointed out a flaw in her stance that she corrected Wednesday before an inside-the-park home run against West Volusia, Fla.
"I sometimes end on my front foot when I should be on my back foot," Hunt said. "By the second [at-bat], I was more contained."
That kind of plate discipline, and heeding Marchbanks' advice, could take the Force a long way.
"A lot of it is mental," he said. "I think they're excited again.
"We're going to be tested, and they're going to make adjustments. I think they're up to the challenge. They're having fun, so we're a dangerous team."
A Sun takes in the Series
Thursday night, the players on all 15 teams made their way to Wahconah Park to be recognized before the Pittsfield Suns played.
But Thursday morning, one member of the Suns was at the Doyle Complex.
Outfielder Luke Reynolds lives with the family of Berkshire Force player Kailey Bell, and wanted to see her play.
"I wanted to come see her and support her," he said.
But Reynolds wasn't able to do much cheering, because he was inside the scorer's booth helping keep track of the Force's win over St. Charles Parish, La.
"The easiest way to get in was to help out, so I thought I'd help out with the scoreboard and be able to watch it," he said.
Reynolds plays Division I baseball at UMass Lowell, a school that just hired former UMass softball All-American Danielle Henderson as its head coach. He said he's seen Division I softball on television, but admitted he's not been around an event like this.
"It's a different animal. I've never really had any experience in softball," Reynolds said. "It's different. But the competition looks good and it looks like a lot of fun."
Sox, A's fans in Series react to trade
The news broke just as early pool-play games were starting Thursday: The Boston Red Sox had traded top pitcher Jon Lester, along with Jonny Gomes, to the Oakland Athletics for All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Berkshire Force players, most of them Sox fans, reacted with surprise.
"[I'm] disappointed, but it's a something-for-nothing trade," Force outfielder Erin Murphy said. "Lester is going, and so is Gomes, but they're going to be free agents. If they want to come back, they're going to come back. We're going to have [Cespedes], who's going to bounce them off the wall. It's kind of a win-win."
The trade solidifies American League West-leading Oakland's starting pitching rotation, but it also deprives Lodi, Calif., pitcher Alyssa Casillas, an A's fan, of her favorite player in green and gold.
"I'm a little disappointed," she said of Cespedes' trade to Boston. "We're going to miss him. He was my favorite player, so I might have to get a new jersey."
Murphy said she's been a die-hard Red Sox fan her entire life. She's 15, so there haven't been many lean years in Boston during her lifetime -- not like this, anyhow. The Sox currently sit in the AL East cellar.
"I think they have to, defensively, be better," Murphy said. "I don't think they're really pulling it through right now. The pitching has to be more consistent."
Murphy said she didn't expect more players to be traded before the MLB non-waiver deadline -- but that was before Boston dealt John Lackey to St. Louis and sent reliever Andrew Miller to Baltimore.