By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – An exciting new era will begin on Tuesday for the Muskegon Clippers.
They will kick off their membership in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate Baseball League when they host the Grand River Loggers at Marsh Field. The first pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.
Muskegon’s opening day starter is expected to be left-handed pitcher Kyle Pauley, who will play next season for Illinois State University, and is expected to be selected in the June 12 Major League Baseball draft.
Pauley pitched this spring for the College of DuPage in Illinois. He was 4-4 with a 4.13 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 48 innings.
The fact that the Clippers will send a pro prospect to the mound on Tuesday is a sure sign that they’ve entered a brave new world.
The GLSCBL, now 30 years old, has long been recognized as one of the best summer college baseball leagues in the nation. Last year 19 players from the league were selected in the MLB draft.
The new league will be a far bigger challenge than the old Michigan Summer Collegiate Baseball League, which the Clippers largely dominated through their first three seasons of existence. They won the league title each of the past two years, and have a combined 55-11 record in those seasons.
“We are very excited to be in the new league,” said Clippers Manager Walt Gawkowski about joining the GLSCBL. “Ever since we created this organization, our ultimate goal was to join the Great Lakes.
“The Michigan league was meant to be a stepping stone to grow a fan base and prove that we can put a competitive team on the field.”
The Clippers will open the season with a big roster – 15 position players and 14 pitchers.
They return a handful of players from last year’s championship team – pitchers Mitch Ashcraft (Grand Valley State University), Andrew Null (Slippery Rock) and Austin Batka (Michigan).
Also back are catcher Cameron Bair (Davenport University) and infielders Jacob Buchberger (Montague High School, Davenport University) and Tyler Trovinger (Mona Shores High School, Oakland University).
But the Clippers also worked to bulk up their roster with more players from a wider range of colleges and universities.
Some new players to watch this year include outfielder Wyatt Featherston, who was drafted last season by the Colorado Rockies but did not sign. He hit five doubles, a triple, four home runs and nine RBIs for Western Kentucky University this spring.
Peter Zimmerman, who is a corner infielder with power, will join Muskegon from St. Louis University. He saw limited action with the Billikens in the spring.
Also new to the team is pitcher Zachary Taglieri from The Citadel, who was selected last year in the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 12 batters in just 5 2/3 innings this spring.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” Gawkowski said about the new league and unfamiliar opponents. “But I like our team. I think we are going to be athletic, with a nice blend of speed and middle-of-the-order power.
“I think we are going to be good this year, but that will also depend on the other teams.”
The Clippers will play a 42-game schedule, including 26 home games at Marsh Field.
They will compete in the league’s Northern Division, along with the Loggers, Irish Hills Leprechauns, St. Clair Green Giants and Lake Erie Monarchs.
The Great Lakes League also has two other divisions.
Competing in the Central Division will be the Licking County Settlers, Galion Graders, Lorain County Ironmen, Lima Locos and Grand Lakes Mariners.
The Southern Division consists of the Cincinnati Steam, Hamilton Joes, Xenia Scouts, South Ohio Copperheaders and Richmond (Indiana) Jazz.