No coach likes the word “rebuilding,” but you might have to use it to describe the 2014 season for the Exeter Jr. City/County baseball team. The Cardinals return just two players from last year’s team, and have just one 16 year-old on the team. It will definitely be a learning season.
“I’m looking forward to a season of player maturity, where they take the basics from Prep and begin to think on their own and apply it to the many different scenarios that they will come across,” said head coach Paul Christofaro. “Most importantly, I’m looking for them to continue coming together as a team and realize their potential to be contenders for the City-County Juniors title next season.”
The Cardinals get players from Exeter Jr. High, the Exeter H.S. JV, Berks Catholic JV and Antietam baseball teams. Leading the offense in the early going has been Timmy Cronan, who’s hitting a lusty .500.
Adam Dempsey is hitting .298, including an inside the park home run in the team’s first game. Nick Klee, from Antietam, had a pair of doubles so far and is hitting .278.
Pitching is the key to any team’s success. The Cardinal staff is anchored by Jonathan Wack, one of the returning players from last year’s team. Right now he has an ERA of 4.67, but Coach Christofaro says don’t be fooled by the numbers.
“Considering he gets the call against our toughest opponents, both locally and as we play in tournaments, he is doing a super job executing his pitches and hitting his spots. His strike ratio is just above 60 percent, and leads the team with 21 strikeouts.”
The number two pitcher will either be Brian Weiss or Klee. Weiss owns as respectable 3.50 ERA so far with a 61 percent strike ratio. Klee is a lefty with an ERA of 3.00 and a 65 percent strike ratio.
“His success is dependent upon hitting his spots and a change-up that just falls off the table making opposing batters wondering what happened,” said Christofaro.
Handling the pitchers behind the plate will be catcher Noah Walter, one of the youngest players on the team.
“He’s doing a great job back there and lets very few balls get by him,” said Christofaro. “Don’t let his size fool you, either his arm strength and quickness gets the job done for those trying to steal a base.”
Wack and Alex Christofaro will also see some time catching for the Cardinals.
Nick Maillie will be at third base for Exeter. He has shown a good glove in the early going.
Alex and Andrew Barlow, twin brothers, can play either the infield or the outfield. Christofar is hoping their hitting improves as they develop more confidence.
Jones is Exeter’s other returning starter.
“He has the base running smarts, versatile either in the outfield or second base, and is also developing confidence in his bat,” said the coach.
Dylan Evanish is new to the team and is still learning the system.
“He is learning our system and coming along nicely,” said Christofaro. “He’s just a great kid that’s fun to be around. He will be great for our organization this season and for years to come.”
Last weekend the team competed in a tournament in Toms River, New Jersey. It was a learning experience for a young team to take on some very tough competition.
“The team took their lumps, but kept a positive attitude, came together as a team, and overall enjoyed the experience,” said Christofaro. “The coaching staff emphasized that in order to get better, you must see first-hand who else is out there. With 12 teams in our league this summer and only the top eight making the playoffs, our goal is to make the playoffs this year. If we don’t make it to the playoffs this year, we won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, if we win a game during the double-elimination schedule, that wouldn’t surprise us either. Our goal this year is for each player to individually improve, and keep this team together for next season.”
This will be a young team, but it has some speed and Coach Christofaro wants his team to be very aggressive on the basepaths. While the team develops as hitters, they will need to produce some runs by taking the extra base and forcing errors from the defense.
“We have been making contact with the ball, we just need to be more selective and develop the ability to place the ball where it needs to go,” said the coach. “Our base running and small ball has always been aggressive, and we will continue to do that during the season. We have three or four players with natural speed, and we have three or four players with base running smarts.
“Your goal on offense is to take what the defense gives you. Being left on base after three outs is somewhat the responsibility of the batter, but it is also dependent on the aggressiveness of the player on the bases. In this area, I believe we are above average.”
A rebuilding year usually means more losses than wins. But then again, if the younger players can mature quickly, anything is possible. In other words, who knows what kind of season this team will have this summer. It will be fun to watch and see what develops.