North Adams SteepleCats leadership emerges from long fall, winter with renewed sense of optimism
It has been a long fall and winter for fans of the North Adams SteepleCats.
The team finished sixth in a seven-team NECBL division, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. In the weeks after the season ended, there were questions about the team, and possibly if it would not return for the 2019 season.
"Right now, we're actively starting up," said general manager Matt Torra. "We have a board for the SteepleCats who are working. It takes a lot of key members and key parts to make this work."
Torra, who came aboard as general manager last May, just before the 2018 NECBL season got underway, has been busy on two fronts. He and first-year manager Mike Dailey have been busy putting a roster together that the GM and manager hopes will be competitive. On the other front Torra has been active in the rebuilding of the board of directors, and trying to get off-the-field plans in as good a condition as those on-the-field plans.
"Everything looks really good for this year. We're really excited," the general manager said. "We're looking forward to getting on the field come June 4, when the season opens. We definitely have the people there that we need to be successful and really put out a great product this year."
Torra said he and first-year manager Mike Dailey have already met with folks in North Berkshires for a question-and-answer session. Torra said he's planning another one sooner rather than later.
Dailey, who was manager Justin Sumner's pitching coach in 2018, takes over the top spot. He will also handle the pitching staff. Dailey is the director of Baseball Operations at Division I Radford University. He will be assisted this summer by coaches Parker Lynn and Seth McLemore. Lynn is an assistant at Division II West Liberty University, while McLemore is an assistant at NAIA Central Methodist University.
The NECBL has not yet released its schedule for the coming season. It has, however, been announced that the 2019 NECBL All-Star Game will be held on July 29 in Montpelier, Vt., the home of the Mountaineers.
North Adams currently has 17 pitchers and 14 position players set. Eighteen of the team members come from Division I schools.
"It was challenging, and yet easy at the same time," Torra said, when asked about putting the roster together. "Mike Dailey and I decided we wanted to put a solid team together, a team that was going to be able to go out there and compete every single day. We said what do we want to be? We want a power first baseman. We want solid defense up the middle, a catcher that can lead the team and some quality starters. What we did is we sat down and contacted over 121 Division I college coaches. We made those contacts.
"Of those 121 college coaches, they gave us a group of kids to contact and touch base with."
While this was Torra's first rodeo in lining up players, it's not like he didn't have the talking points. The former Pittsfield High School and University of Massachusetts pitcher played in the NECBL for the Torrington Twisters. He also spent a season with Orleans in the Cape Cod League before being taken in the first round of the 2005 Amateur Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"The NECBL sold itself," said Torra. "When I talked to them, I was able to explain to them that I played in the NECBL, I played in the Cape League, I was a first-round draft pick, I had 10 years in professional baseball.
"Just being up front with them worked to our benefit."
The SteepleCats will have two returning players in pitcher Joe Kemlage and infielder Joe Porricelli. The left-hander from American International was 1-1 in five games last summer. He started four and had a 3.69 earned run average. Porricelli plays at Merrimack and hit .291 with 13 stolen bases for the SteepleCats. Torra said it's nice to have players who are familiar with the team and with the league.
"Joe Kemlage came to us late in the season, and he just came out and pitched. He was hard-working, knew what he had to do and did his work," Torra said. "Porricelli is one of the hardest working kids you'll ever meet. He's at the park early every day. He'll definitely be a good asset to the team and will help guide the new guys."
There could be as many as three more familiar names on the North Adams roster. Adams' Matt Koperniak and Jackson Coutts are heading for Cape Cod to play in the Cape league to start the season. Depending on what happens, Torra said there are spots on the roster for both.
In addition, another former PHS General will be playing in North Adams. Outfielder Kevin Donati from UAlbany spent two seasons with the Futures League's Pittsfield Suns, but will change leagues this summer.
"Kevin's going to be a great asset for us," said the general manager. "We're looking forward to having him."
The SteepleCats have been in the NECBL since 2002, and are still looking to make the final round of the playoffs for the first time, and bring home the Fay Vincent Cup.
"We definitely feel with this team, we have the ability to make the playoffs," Torra said. "We hope to keep a majority of these players with us [all summer], and go out and compete."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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