By Steve Gunn
The Clippers met for one practice session Thursday evening, and will begin their second season in the Michigan Summer Collegiate Baseball League with a home game against the Motor City Pride on Friday at 7 p.m. at Muskegon’s Marsh Field.
A Saturday doubleheader against Motor City will follow, with the first game beginning at 4:30 p.m.
The team is only having a single practice because the Clippers players have all just wrapped up their spring seasons with various college baseball teams. While many of them have never played together before, they will all report in mid-season form and be ready to perform.
Last year the Clippers had a similarly short preparation period, and ended up going 23-7 and finishing in second place in the league. They lost the league title to Rapid City, a Grand Rapids-based team, in the final game of the season.
“We did pretty much the same thing last year, with one practice and one exhibition, and this year there won’t be an exhibition,” said Clippers manager Walt Gawkowski. “At this point you become very reliant on their skills and knowledge of the game.
“There isn’t a lot of preparation work to be done, to be honest. I’m very comfortable with one workout. We’ll be fine. As the year goes on we’ll make some in-game corrections, but these guys have high baseball IQs and they are very talented players.”
The Clippers will count heavily on seven returning players from last year’s squad – outfielders Jamie Potts (Grand Valley State University), Matt Williams (GVSU) and Jason Ribecky (GVSU), shortstop Conner Seymour (Davenport University) and pitchers Kyle Lawson (Muskegon Community College), Nick Eely (Aquinas College) and Aaron Jensen (GVSU).
Potts, a 2011 graduate of Oakridge High School, was the Clipper MVP last season, and will be expected to play a big offensive role this summer – as long as he’s on the team.
But that could change when the Major League Baseball draft comes along on June 8. Potts could very well be drafted and could choose to sign a pro contract and leave to play minor league professional baseball, Gawkowski said.
“My guess is he likely will get drafted, and my guess is that he likely will sign with a team if that’s the case,” Gawkowski said. “I think it’s fair to say that’s always been a goal of his. He may only be around for the first part of the season. He may only be around for the first weekend.”
Gawkowski said all seven returnees performed well last season, and he’s excited to have them back.
“Potts has become sort of the face of the franchise, Seymour was outstanding at second base last year and will play shortstop this year,” the manager said. “Matt Williams joined us about a third of the way into the season last year, played outfield and pitched some. He’s a hard thrower and can swing the bat.
“Lawson, Eely and Jensen give us good pitching depth. Jensen is another possible draftee.”
Gawkowski said the team will miss shortstop Patrick Giddings, who was a standout last summer but will sit out this year due to injuries suffered during the college season.
Gawkowski has no way way of knowing how the rest of the roster will pan out, since the new guys come from several different colleges, and were accepted based on the recommendations of their college coaches and other experts.
Clipper officials have never seen many of them play.
One good sign is that three of the new players come from the very strong Grand Valley State University squad, which won the GLIAC title this spring. They are catcher Connor Glick and pitchers Tim Tartar and Jordan Drake.
That means a total of seven players from GVSU will be on the squad.
Other new pitchers are Luke Smith (Ashland University) and Brandon Melchert (Aquinas College).
Other new position players are third baseman Ryan Mergener (Wayne State University), catcher/first baseman Cameron Bair (Valusa State University), infielder Adrian Anderson (Muskegon Community College), outfielder Kyle Wise (Slippery Rock University) and infielder Matt Mander (Slippery Rock).
“We have a nice mix of local kids and a lot of newcomers,” Gawkowski said. “I’m really excited about our roster.”