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Opening night: a fresh start and a strong start


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POSTED: Sunday, May 24, 2009

At long last, opening night.

After seven months of the offseason, two weeks of spring training and one close call from Mother Nature in the form of an inland hurricane, we are playing baseball for keeps again.

I have looked forward to beginning the new season for some time now. Last year was a tough one, full of ups and downs on the field, as little seemed to go our way. The only remedy for a frustrating season is the start of a new one.

Each new year offers a fresh start, and this season offers me a change of scenery as well. After spending last season as pitching coach for the Evansville Otters, I have moved on to take the same position with the Southern Illinois Miners.

Friday's opening night gave me the rare opportunity to leave last season behind me and look to the prospects of 2009, as we made the short trip from Marion, Ill., to southern Indiana to play the Otters.

As our team bus pulled up to the entrance at Bosse Field in Evansville, Chris Crescenzi, who came over with me from the Otters to the Miners this offseason, reminded me to go left to the visitor's clubhouse instead of heading right, which we called home for four months last summer.

Seeing the familiar faces around the stadium was a treat. From our clubbie Sammy Hartsfield, to Liam Miller, Casie Williams and Brandon McClish from our front office, everyone involved with the ballclub was very good to me last season, and it was nice to touch base with them again. I even had a chance to catch up with John and Brendan Brazelton—my host parents when I played for the Otters a decade ago.

The familiar sights and sounds were great, but once I put on my batting practice uniform at 3:30, my thoughts shifted to beating my old team. With returning Frontier League pitcher of the year Ryan Bird getting the start for us in the opener, I was confident we would be in good position to compete well against the Otters.

As expected, there were a lot of familiar faces in the other dugout. In all I think there were seven players from last year's squad. The lone returning hitter in the lineup for Evansville was lead-off man Justin Randall, who I am very close to, and was able to stay in touch with all winter. Figuring out a way to get Justin out was odd for me, as I spent all of last season trying to figure out ways for him to get on base.

Perhaps the strangest thing was facing Otters starting pitcher Billy Phillips. I spent the past two seasons coaching Billy on my ballclubs, first with the Windy City Thunderbolts, and then with Evansville last year. Billy and I won a championship together, and we really worked well together over the years. Watching him pitch against us was surreal.

Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities early and often, as we banged out 16 hits on the way to a 13-1 win.

UH-Hilo alum Mike Higa homered for us in his first professional game, while Gered Mochizuki, who I helped move to the Miners from Evansville this winter, contributed a double and a triple. Bird was immaculate on the mound, working five scoreless innings to earn the win, allowing one hit while striking out seven.

Opening night was a good start for our team, and a fresh start for Gered, Chris and me. We like where we're at, and are excited about the prospects of the season. They say you can't go home again, but you can surely visit. And hopefully, leave with a smile.

 

Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo, is the pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.