Pittsfield Suns report for upcoming season
PITTSFIELD -- Mike Valentin Jr. came a long way to play summer wood-bat league baseball. He can't wait for the Pittsfield Suns to get going.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Honestly, last year I tried to come out east but it didn't work out," said the outfielder from St. Mary's (Calif.), who just wrapped up his sophomore season. "I'm really happy that it worked out this time."
Valentin Jr. is a native of Salinas, Calif., and has played wood bat summer baseball on the West Coast. This is a rare trip east of the Mississippi River for the player.
"Once. Only for a Cooperstown, N.Y., tournament when I was 12," said Valentin, who hit .264 for the Gaels in the spring. "But other than that, nope."
Second-year manager Tom Conley and pitching coach Cameron McMullen greeted most of the players who will be wearing Suns uniforms this summer. Five players from Bryant and Columbia did not arrive Sunday because their teams just ended their runs in the NCAA Division I baseball tournament.
Conley will run his players out today and Tuesday mornings for two-hour preseason practices. There won't be a lot of time to get ready, because the Suns open their season on Wednesday night on the road at Wachusett. Two days later, Pittsfield will be at Wahconah Park for the home opener against Torrington.
"I'm pumped. I couldn't wait," said Conley, who spent this year as an assistant coach at Trinity College. "In Division III, the schedule is a little shorter than what I'm used to. I've been done for almost a month now. I've been itching to get going."
There are five players returning to Wahconah Park this summer. Steve Dill of Harvard -- another late arrival -- will begin his third season. Brenden Geary of Maine, Luke Reynolds of UMass-Lowell, Gary Tesch of Penn and Derek Gardella of Rhode Island are all making returns to Wahconah Park.
"I missed standing out right there in center field," said Tesch, pointing to the batter's eye behind the 374-foot mark in straightaway center. "It feels good to be back.
"It's nice and cool up here compared to back home [Cypress, Texas] , where it's like 90 degrees and still raining. It's nice to get some good weather. I'm excited to be back."
Tesch played in 36 games for the Quakers and hit .246 with a home run. He was named the Ivy League player of the week for the week ending March 25.
Geary, who just wrapped up his sophomore season at the University of Maine, gets to return to the family homestead. His mother is the former Kathleen Dowd and his grandfather is the late Paul Dowd who played for the Pittsfield Red Sox before settling here and becoming active in politics and the Jimmy Fund.
"I got the offer to come back and jumped on it right away," Geary said. "I thought it was a good opportunity to get some playing time and work on things again.
"I loved the way the team was managed last year. I think it's one of the best teams in the FCBL, if not the best. I think it's a good place to get some work done this summer."
The Pittsfield coaching staff arrived before the players did. Conley made the short drive from Hartford, Conn., while McMullen came in from Reno, Nev., where he spent the season as director of operations for the University of Nevada baseball team.
Conley said when they weren't working with their college teams, he and McMullen kept their eyes on their laptop computers to see how the members of the Pittsfield roster were used.
"I'd go look at box scores basically to check up on them and see how they're doing, and see how much they're getting in or not getting in," said Conley. "A lot of the guys got in a lot, especially the young guys, which is a good sign."