After a year off, the Tulpehocken American Legion baseball program is back. Once again they will be back on the schedule in the Schuylkill-Berks League and hope to make some noise this year.
There will be a lot of younger players on this year's squad, but there will be some seasoned veterans as well. But nobody is fooling themselves, the Thunder will most likely not be playing in the league championship game. There will be some growing pains. But that being said, there is enough talent on this team that they can win some games. The goal this year is to be competitive and maybe pull off a couple of upsets.
'I think we will be a very competitive team.' said Tulpehocken Head Coach Zach Shirk. 'We have a young core coming from our school ball team, and we have some experience coming back from last year's school team. When you break it down, we have a lot of talent and can field every position with a couple of skilled players. I think that once the team gets used to playing together, we'll be hard to handle.'
There are 18 players on the team, with three of the players also playing for the Jr. Legion team. After missing a season, that's a lot of players. They have the depth to be successful, which wasn't always the case in years past. The big question is will these guys be able to play as a team after not playing together last season.
'Obviously missing a year in the league will not be any kind of advantage, but I don't think that it will hurt us too much either,' said Coach Shirk. Most of the kids played ball somewhere else last season, and most of them were playing school ball this season at Tulpehocken, so I am not too worried about them being rusty.'
Among those who will be most counted on to power the team this year will be Ross Baver, Danny Louviaux, Drew Fisher and Aaron Schneck.
Baver, who just graduated from Tulpehocken High School, will be the starting catcher for his fourth straight year. Shirk knows he will get the very best that Baver has at all times.
'He is a very dedicated player, who worked year in and year out to improve his pop time, his blocking, and most of all his hitting,' said Coach Shirk. 'He has succeeded in all of these tasks and now effectively holds runners at their base with a quick throw down, and some of the best blocking skills I've seen in a long time. He also swings the lumber very well in the two spot. He may not the fastest runner on the bases, but always a threat at the plate.'
Danny Louviaux will pitching and play second or shortstop for the Thunder. He is coming off a junior season at Tulpehocken High School where he pitched very well for the Trojans in his first year on the team.
'He's a solid infielder and also swings a very lively bat,' said Shirk. 'He has a great personality that helps to keep the team going when they are down. With that fierce competitive drive to win, he is a great motivator.'
Also a pitcher and infielder, Fisher graduated from Tulpehocken in 2011 and is ready to come back to the team. He will bring a level of versatility to the team since he play anywhere in the infield.
'He's a solid hitter, batting right in the middle of the lineup always a threat when he is swinging the bat,' said Shirk. 'Drew brings a level of calmness to the team. While he might not always be calm on the inside, he looks smooth and relaxed on the outside, ready to make the next play.'
Schneck just finished his sophomore year at Tulpehocken High School but will be a major contributer to the team this year after playing two seasons on the varsity high school team. He will patrol centerfield for the Thunder and will also do some pitching.
'He is a great centerfielder with incredible range and a great jump on the ball,' said Shirk. 'He's also a solid stick in the line-up, usually leading off. He's a great threat on the bases and can really put pitchers in a tough spot when he gets on. Aaron is also a great young pitcher with a live arm. He will be ready to continue improving on his overall pitching technique.'
One of the strong points of this team will be its depth and versatility. If someone goes down, there will be a quality player to take his place. It's an amazing thing to have for a team that wasn't even a team last season.
If there is one aspect of the team that Shirk is concerned about is the pitching. As with most young pitchers, wildness can be a concern. Throwing strikes will be the key to the success of this team this year. Coach Shirk will do all he can to get his pitchers to do just that.
'If we keep our walks to a minimum, we'll be very hard to beat.'