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Suns work for future

April 05, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

The Hagerstown Suns have been granted a building permit.

No, relax. Don't get excited. No one is trying to sneak a new stadium past anyone. It's not that kind of construction.

Instead, the Suns - as the new Single A affiliate of the Washington Nationals - are about to become the cornerstone for rebuilding a franchise.

Hagerstown takes the field at quaint Municipal Stadium today at 6:35 p.m. against Hickory in the season-opening game of the 2007 season. It will signal many changes, beginning a switch of team logo and team colors from black and orange to red and blue.

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And that is where the construction, or reconstruction, will begin.

"The Nationals organization at this point is rebuilding from the bottom up," said Suns manager Tommy Herr. "This team has more prospects on it than anywhere in the organization."

So the bottom rung - the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League - has been formulated to lay a foundation for a resurgence of the Nationals. And it means an interesting mixture of players to get the job done.

"I feel good about this team," said Herr, a Lancaster, Pa., native who played the majority of his 13-year career for St. Louis and Philadelphia. "I like the chemistry and the intangibles that make for a good team. They stick together and pull for each other. I feel good about this team being competitive. I've seen that it has speed, power and is good in situational hitting."

The two focal points on the Suns roster - mostly because of high draft selections and prospect labels - are left fielder Chris Marrero and shortstop Stephen King. Marrero, 18, was one of Washington's two first-round picks in the 2006 amateur draft while King, 19, was selected in the third round.

King and Marrero will get their chances in the lineup as they are slotted to be the second and third hitters in the Suns batting order.

"King has good power out of the No. 2 slot and has the ability to take the ball the other way," Herr said. "Marrero is an RBI guy."

Marrero was drafted as a third baseman but has moved to the outfield. Tonight's game will be the first real test for him in his new position.

"It's big because this is my first minor league game," Marrero said. "I'll move anywhere if I can help the team win. I got some good guidance about playing outfield from coaches like Tim Raines. I just need to get out there everyday and shag flies to get used to my reads and sprinting to the ball.

"I think this team is going to have a great year. We have a lot of hitting and a lot of great pitchers."

Herr wasn't sure of his starting lineup for tonight's game because he didn't know anything about Hickory. Still, outfielders Justin Maxwell and Mike Daniel are expected to be major cogs for the Suns along with first baseman Brett McMillian.

"Daniel will be our leadoff hitter," Herr said. "He has speed and some good power. McMillian and Maxwell are RBI guys. We have the potential to score a lot of runs. We did in spring training. I'm very optimistic."

The opening-day start will fall in the glove of right-hander Marco Estrada. Estrada, 23, and the sixth pick from the 2005 draft, earned the nod because of his experience.

"He pitched probably as well as anyone did in the spring," Herr said. "He's an older guy and with all the hoopla that goes with opening day, he should be more relaxed. He commands three pitches and he controls the strike zone. He has poise and he loves to compete."

There is much anticipation on many sides for the Suns opener. There are the fans with the new affiliation and players for a new chance. But for Herr, it's something different, too. Last season, he managed the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League to the championship.

"The Atlantic League is a veteran league with guys who have played in the major leagues," Herr said. "They knew how to conduct themselves and how to go about their business. Here, I'll have to tell these players everything. But that's part of the fun.

"Managing is managing. I helped out with a high school team before I moved up and that was satisfying. It's fun to win at any level."

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