Beetles baseball: Team hopes familiar faces lead to similar success
The Alexandria Beetles opened up the 2012 season on Wednesday night with a roster it hopes can duplicate the magic is created last summer once everyone is finally here.
The Beetles had 21 players at their first practice on Tuesday night and 17 more who were still playing deep into the postseason for their college teams. First-year head coach Drew Saberhagen feels that is a testament to the talent this team will have once the roster is completely intact.
Saberhagen returns for his seventh season with this organization. He's done it all in the Northwoods' League, spending four years as a player and two years as a pitching coach before getting this opportunity to be the head coach.
"My hometown might as well be listed as Alexandria, Minnesota," Saberhagen said. "I'm from Calabasas, California, but I've spent more time here the last seven years, eight years, than I have back home in California...It's just an incredible opportunity with a lot of things to do - the golf, the lakes and just the people in general in Alexandria are special people."
Saberhagen said he learned a lot about coaching from former Beetles head coaches Scott Chisholm (2010) and Matt Hancock (2011) to prepare him for this opportunity. He knows what kind of players it takes to win in this league after helping this team to 44 wins last season.
"[That] doesn't change expectations," he said. "Whenever you take a job, you want to win the whole thing. We fell a little bit short of that goal last year, but seven years, one playoff appearance and then last year was an amazing job with all the guys there. We've brought back a lot of familiar faces. I think we have eight or nine guys back. That's probably the most guys we've had back in a really long time because the guys played the game the right way."
Right-hander Michael Reed is one of those returning players who remember what it was like when this team got on a roll last summer. Reed (LSU) started 11 games for the Beetles in 2011 and got the start for Alexandria in the season opener on Wednesday.
He said the thing that made last year so special was the fact that a group of guys put winning over individual success. That is the kind of atmosphere he wants to help create again this summer.
"I'm pumped," he said. "I'm just looking forward to being with a new group of guys and having a few come back and getting to know them. Hopefully we can get something going just like we did last year. That's the gameplan is to reach the playoffs and see how far we can go."
Waiting on the draft
One guy who the Beetles are waiting on to see if he will be back in Alexandria at all is reliever Anthony Bazzani.
The righthander from Eastern Kentucky is waiting to see if he'll be taken in the MLB draft that runs from June 4-6 before deciding whether or not he will join the Beetles this summer. Bazzani increased his stock dramatically with Alexandria last season after posting a 1.45 ERA with 70 strikeouts in just 49 2/3 innings as the team's closer.
Bazzani took that success into his junior season at EKU and finished with a 3.40 ERA in 42 1/3 innings. He struggled with his control at times this spring, finishing with 32 walks to 29 strikeouts.
"I know he's really looking forward to it," Saberhagen said of Bazzani's outlook on next week's draft. "Obviously, I want him up here, but I hope we don't see him because he's the kind of kid you really root for. He had such a major impact on the team last year. I know the returning guys are like, 'Man, Bazzani's got to come back.' He's a guy who had such a big influence on the guys that were here."
Junior pitcher Steve Weber is also waiting to see if he'll be taken in the draft next week. He went 7-5 with a 5.08 ERA as a starter at Eastern Michigan this past season.
Dalton Leuschke in JUCO World Series
Alexandria's Dalton Leuschke is one of the 17 players still going for their college team who is expected to join the Beetles some time in the next week or so.
Leuschke is playing in the NJCAA Division II national championship tournament with Des Moines Area Community College this week. He was named a Region XI honorable-mention player after hitting .322 in 115 at-bats so far this season with the Bears. The freshman started 37 games for a DMACC team that was 50-13 heading into the tournament this week.
Eric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.