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Suns plan to put season in full motion

April 07, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

If Gene Richards has his way, there is one thing Hagerstown Suns fans won't be doing much of this season.

Blinking.

That's the kind of team the manager wants the Suns to be - one with oodles of "Now you see them, now you don't" excitement. The kind that's in constant motion, kind of like a lottery machine filled with ping pong balls.

And if the Suns can follow Richards' plan, it could be an enjoyable 25th anniversary season for everyone except Hagerstown opponents, starting tonight when the Suns host the West Virginia Power in the South Atlantic League season opener at Municipal Stadium.

"I want them to think about moving all the time," Richards said Wednesday during the team's media day. "I hope to use our speed all over. I told the kids earlier that if they didn't know anything about me, I'm all about that."

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Setting a pace is what Richards and the New York Mets organization, the Single-A Suns' new parent team, are all about.

Richards was known for using his quickness during his playing days from 1977-84 for San Diego and San Francisco. Meanwhile, Mets farm teams are among the best quick start artists in minor league baseball.

The Mets' farm system is rated fourth-best in baseball, which included South Atlantic League Southern Division champion Capital City last season. The Mets left Capital City after losing the SAL championship series to Hickory in 2004 and relocated in Hagerstown.

Richards envisions more of the same this season, especially if the Suns play his style of game.

"I told them we are going to do this come hell or high water," Richards said. "Our personality is aggressiveness. I don't want to take anything away from these guys."

The Suns showed some of their style on Tuesday when they faced Hagerstown Community College in an exhibition game benefit at Municipal Stadium. Hagerstown showed speed and aggressiveness on the bases while flashing some strong fundamentals in the field.

"Players have to show their speed, catch the ball and be able to throw it if they want to be able to (be promoted)," Richards said. "If you cut back on any of it on these guys, you cut back on the things they will need to make it to the majors."

The Suns showed a blend of speed and power in the lineup against HCC when they pounded out 20 hits. Hagerstown will highlight its quickness in the top half of the order with Wilson Batista leading off, followed by designated hitter Dante Brinkley, right fielder Carlos Gomez and center fielder Ambiorix Concepcion, who may be the catalyst of the team.

They will be followed by first baseman Mike Carp, who is considered a power-hitting prospect by the Mets.

"We have a very good range of players," said 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman Tyler Davidson. "We've got speed and we are athletic. We can do what we need to to win. If we can't do it hitting it long, we can do it playing little ball."

Gabriel Hernandez will get the start for the Suns against West Virginia, who will be debuting as the new affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Hernandez was the Mets' third pick in the 2004 amateur draft and went 4-3 with a 1.03 earned run average with Gulf Coast and Brooklyn half-season teams last season.

"He's pitched well in the spring and he's one of the guys who are coming along," Richards said. "He has the ability to throw at the Major League level, which means he has the ability to throw three pitches. Plus, the big thing is he throws strikes."

Constant movement, consistent pitching and crisply played games: They are all main ingredients in Richards' formula to putting the Suns on the winning track while giving Suns fans something to keep them interested.

"In the minors, there should be an air of excitement," he said. "We are in the era when home runs are important and we want these kids to be able to show that. But we will still be looking for a lot of potential and bat speed. We have a lot of potential and at the end of the season, we hope it comes around to show what we have."

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