Putting together a summer wooden bat team for college baseball players, it turns out, is a lot like drafting a fantasy baseball team.
“I haven’t seen any of these kids play,” Champion City Kings general manager Rick White said. “You’re going off stats from the year before. Then you hope when you draft your team you hope they perform so you can win.”
The Champion City Kings become reality for Springfield on Wednesday. The Prospect League team throws out the first pitch on its inaugural 60-game season at 7:05 p.m. against the Chillicothe Paints at Carleton Davidson Stadium.
Think Springfield is excited?
White said no less than 120 of the 156 reserved seats behind home plate have been sold for the season, and mostly by word of mouth.
“It’s going to look like we’re sold out every night,” White said of the building anticipation.
Now White wants to build a winner. He thinks he has one, even if it is sight unseen. The players are arriving in Springfield today and hold their first practice Monday.
White, though, has been competing since last fall. That’s when college coaches send out a list of players they would like to place in summer leagues and programs. Then the competition begins as general managers and field managers go after the players they want.
“You get those guys based on relationships built up with coaches through the Prospect League or if your field manager knows any of the coaches,” White said. “Basically you have to sell your team. If you’ve got three teams from the Prospect League calling them, you have to outdo the other two teams.”
White has been on the phone more than he’d like of late. The Kings have already lost eight players due to injury or quitting.
Among those missing from the Kings this year will be shortstop and outfielder Zac Wilson. The Eaton High School graduate and Wittenberg University player popped out his left shoulder diving for a ball in the Tigers’ final series of the season. Wilson, also a starting wide receiver in football, elected to take the summer off to rehab.
Cedarville University’s Jaden Clelan, a Northwestern grad, starts the season on the disabled list with an ankle injury. With Creighton catcher Joey Mancuso playing in the NCAA Division I tournament, the Kings start with one catcher until another is signed.
The other half of the battery is in better shape, fortunately. Locals Luke Mamer (Wright State/Kenton Ridge) and Nick Weybright (University of Dayton) enter camp healthy.
“I’ve got a lot of Division I guys, top-of-the-line junior college guys so to be able to find a local college guy that can compete with these guys, that’s a good thing,” White said of having a team with local flavor.
Should the pitching staff lose a few arms, would White entertain the idea — kidding, of course — of slipping on a Kings jersey and sneaking into the game?
“I wish. It’d be fun, but I’d probably end up hurting myself,” said White, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1990 and played 14 big-league seasons with 14 different teams. “I haven’t thrown a ball competitively since 2008.”
White, an assistant coach for Wittenberg, does throw heat during the Tigers’ batting practice to prepare for big games. He said he can still hit 90 mph.
“When I throw BP for Wittenberg I’ll let the guys hit the ball for a little bit then I’ll start messing with them,” White said with a devilish laugh. “It doesn’t bother me when I’m throwing but for the next three days it’s hard to move around.”
White hopes the crowds have the same problem Wednesday, but in a good way. The Kings are hoping to pack 1,056-seat Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“The feedback from the people here that go to Dragons games said they’d rather come here because it’s cheaper, it’s closer and we’re not far off competitively wise,” White said. “Most of the Dragons’ kids are right out of high school or college. College baseball is not far from a professional low-level baseball team.”