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Suns set to storm into '99

April 02, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

Last year, lightning struck for the Toronto organization in the form of the Hagerstown Suns.

This year, the Blue Jays try to make it strike in the same place twice so they can bottle it.

There's a familiar thread that has been woven into the 1999 Hagerstown Suns roster. It's one that looks like same formula that helped the South Atlantic League franchise return to the playoffs for the first time in four years while making Municipal Stadium an interesting place to frequent.

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Manager Rolando Pino will have the same formula with new ingredients to work with when the Suns open the season Thursday against the Columbus (Ga.) RedStixx to start an eight-game road trip. Hagerstown opens the home season on April 16 against the Greensboro Bats.

It goes something like this. Start with the organization's top draft pick. Toss in a first baseman who won the Pioneer League's Triple Crown. Add an unselfish veteran player to show the youngsters the ropes. Find some age for experience and speed, defense and strong pitching for stability.

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It worked last year with the likes of Vernon Wells, Greg Morrison, Mike Strange and Chris Hayes and the cast that led Hagerstown to the semifinals in the playoffs.

This year, those roles are owned by shortstop Felipe Lopez, first baseman Jay Gibbons and infielder Jesse Zepeda in the 1999 Suns' quest for a repeat performance.

Along with the trio, the Suns feature eight players who have played in Hagerstown before, including four pitchers.

The gem of the group is Lopez, who was the eighth overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft. The 18-year-old shortstop, who hit .373 at St. Catharines, is considered Toronto's third-best prospect.

Gibbons duplicated Morrison's Triple Crown feat by hitting .397 with 19 home runs and 97 RBIs in 73 games. The 22-year-old first baseman had 35 multiple hit games.

Zepeda returns for a second season after hitting .231 while playing primarily third base for the Suns.

Brian Bowles, who made two important spot starts for the Suns last season, also returns. Right handed starter Joe Casey and reliever Randy Eversgerd, who started last season here, return to add experience to the pitching staff.

Jarod Kingrey, who was promoted to Hagerstown for the playoffs, will fill the role of closer this season.

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