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Experience gives Suns know-how

College-trained players give Hagerstown a chance to play consistently sooner.

College-trained players give Hagerstown a chance to play consistently sooner.

April 14, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

If anything, the Hagerstown Suns will be able to give the 2003 season that old college try.

No, it's not a case of manager Mike Ramsey giving the "hit 'em high, hit 'em low" Knute Rockne speech to motivate the team. It's more a matter that a number of the Suns are products of institutions of higher learning, which could give Hagerstown an edge this season.

Five of the Suns' regular position players and two of the starting pitchers come to the team after spending time at four-year schools while a number of others were selected out of junior colleges. That in itself won't guarantee Hagerstown a winning team, but it puts the learning curve on an advanced scale.

"We have a lot of college experience from good four-year schools," Ramsey said Friday after the Suns scheduled game with Lexington was postponed by rain. "Hopefully that means they are further along in their development. That could be a big help to us down the road."

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The left side of Hagerstown's infield and two-thirds of the outfield come from major universities with reputations of playing good Division I schedules.

Third baseman Kevin Kelly hails from Duke, while shortstop Jake Wald played at nearby George Washington. Centerfielder Karl Jernigan played at Florida State and rightfielder Randy Walter played at Wichita State, two schools that aren't strangers to the College World Series.

Catcher Brian Munhall is out of Gonzaga, which has given him some perspective in calling a game and handling pitchers.

"I really like our team up the middle," Ramsey said. "I like the way Munhall handles a game. He's solid back there and that's a difference from last year. We had Justin Knoedler last year and he was going through growing pains trying to get comfortable in the position. We had a young pitching staff and it didn't help them. Munhall is already a catcher that brings a lot of intangibles to the game."

Playing a college schedule gives the Suns' nucleus an added leg up because most schools play 50-70 game schedules, close to the length of a professional rookie league schedule. Usually younger players, those out of high school, have to make the transition from playing 20-30 games a year and tend to tire later in the season.

"I think this will give us more consistent play than we had last season, (Thursday) night notwithstanding," Ramsey said. "We have a lot of kids that, if they get on a roll, could get the chance to move out of here."

Ramsey has been high on Hagerstown's pitching and defense this season, but it didn't show up in Thursday's opener. The Suns committed three errors that accounted for eight unearned runs in a 9-1 loss to the Legends. In the second inning, a single misplayed fly ball led to seven runs.

"I think we are going to compete, even though we didn't show it (Thursday)," Ramsey said. "I know I keep saying it, but I think we will be able to pitch and catch the ball, two things we didn't do consistently last year, and we won't give a lot of big innings. If we can continue to do that, we will be in a lot of games."

SUN SPOT - Hagerstown starting pitcher Merkin Valdez was named South Atlantic League pitcher of the week for April 3-10 after going 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two starts. He allowed one run on four hits and one walk while striking out 20 in 11 innings.

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