Suns to be Nationals attraction

April 02, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

There is always a level of anticipation whenever someone gets something new.

New car owners can't wait for the first test drive. Clotheshorses always want to be the first to unveil new fashion.

For Tommy Herr, there is that tingle of excitement. After all, he has an original when it comes to managing the Hagerstown Suns.

Herr is debuting as the new manager of the newest edition of the Hagerstown Suns, the new affiliate of the Washington Nationals. There will be new uniforms with a new blue-and-red color scheme and a new logo for the dawn of a new era of minor league baseball at Municipal Stadium.


Not to say that Herr is anxious, but if he had it his way, the Suns might have started the season a week ago.

"Things are going pretty well," Herr said from the Nationals' training facility in Viera, Fla. "The team I've had has won its last seven games. They are on a good roll right now."

That may be a good sign. In the past when the Suns were connected to other organizations, the managers didn't know who was on their team until they played the first game. They would wait for the "trickle-down effect" - players who played the majority of the spring filtering down as the major league team pared its roster.

It hasn't been that way for Herr, who pretty much had his allotment of young players determined for him much earlier than the norm.

"The team is pretty much set," Herr said. "When we leave here, we will know who our five starters are and will have a sixth who will be a swing pitcher who can start after rainouts, in the second game of a doubleheader or go long relief. We will know the seven guys who will be in our bullpen. We know who a lot of our players will be."

It makes for a good situation for the Nationals. Washington comes to Hagerstown in an effort to keep its farm system close to home while trying to establish a stronger fan base for the Nationals. Just by having a whole team in place, it adds an air of stability to a franchise which is trying to retool itself before it opens its new ballpark in 2008.

For Hagerstown, it will be the first time to cheer for a local affiliate since the Baltimore Orioles chose to leave town after the 1992 season. It all starts on Thursday at 6:35 p.m. with the season opener at Municipal Stadium against Hickory.

The first team here is important to the Nationals. That's why the Suns will feature a wide array of talent, including Chris Marrero, one of the Nationals' two No. 1 picks from the 2006 amateur draft.

Marrero, 18, was selected at the end of the first round as a third baseman, but has moved to left field. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Marrero hit .309 with 16 RBI in 22 games for the Gulf Coast Nationals.

"He's doing well, but he is going through the transformation stage," Herr said. "He is learning to play outfield and getting more comfortable. He's going to get a lot of work here."

Marrerro is slotted to bat in the middle of the Suns' lineup along with center fielder Justin Maxwell, a University of Maryland product who hit .269 with four home runs and 33 RBI for Vermont in the New York-Penn League.

Shortstop Stephen King, Washington's third-round choice, and right fielder Mike Daniel will bat at the top of the Suns order.

Pitcher Colton Willems, Washington's other first-round choice, will start the season in extended spring training.

"He looks good, but they want to be careful with him," Herr said.

Righthander Jhonny Nunez, 20, who was acquired from Los Angeles for Marlon Anderson, will be one of the focal points of the Suns' diverse starting staff.

"We have some good potential," Herr said. "We have four or five hard throwers and a good balance of left- and right-handers. We got some young pitchers and some older ones. We have a lot here because the organization feels it has seven pitchers here who will prosper."

The Suns set up to be a team with a style that Herr might recognize from his playing days as a second baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals under manager Whitey Herzog.

"We are a combination of power and speed," Herr said. "We don't really have a lot of base-stealing speed, but the speed to be aggressive on the bases, and we have power potential."

The Suns will break camp today and start their trek north, with some flying in on Monday and others driving to town on Tuesday. Evening practices are set on Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday's opener.

The Suns players are just like their uniforms, local affiliation, colors and logo. They are all new.

"How we do depends on our young guys," Herr said. "Young guys don't have a track record yet so there will be a lot of wait and see. It will be exciting for me to see how they progress. They have a chance to be very good."

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