By Jeff Nations
Ben Moore thinks expectations are a good thing.
That attitude will serve Moore well as he enters his first season as the manager of the Valley Baseball League's Strasburg Express. After playing for the VBL championship and just coming up short in a deciding Game 3 loss to the Waynesboro Generals, expectations are high for the Express to get back to that level again this year and it's Moore's job to make that happen.
Moore, an assistant baseball coach at Randolph-Macon College, takes over for Butch Barnes as Strasburg's manager after Barnes stepped down to become the team's vice president of baseball operations. Moore can thank Barnes for those heightened expectations.
"It was a great season for them last year," Moore said. "I guess the thinking around the league is to keep your head above water and make the playoffs, and hopefully get some momentum going and make a run."
Eight teams will once again make the playoffs despite an unbalanced league after following the Rockbridge Rapids' decision to cease operations, which necessitated scrapping last year's divisional format in favor of a single league. That leaves plenty of opportunities to make the postseason, and Barnes left his replacement more than just the pressure to repeat. The Express welcome back five players from the previous two teams. From last year's squad, starting third baseman Tyler McDonald (Millersville) and slugging catcher Teddy Payne (West Virginia State) are back along with swingman pitcher David Hafer (Rider). Rejoining the Express from the 2012 squad after playing in different summer leagues last year are infielders Jay Lizanich (Presbyterian) and Billy Motroni (Presbyterian).
"They enjoyed having them so much that they asked them to come back," Moore said of the Presbyterian duo.
Hafer, a left-hander, is actually the first-ever three-year member of the Express after having played for the team the past two seasons. Hafer started nine of 11 games he pitched in for Rider in the spring, posting a 4-3 mark with a 5.13 ERA while fanning 41 in 47 1/3 innings.
Scotty Ward, a left-hander from Florida Tech, was the ace of that staff this spring as he posted a sparkling 1.98 ERA while compiling a 5-2 record in 12 starts. He fanned 38 in 81 2/3 innings, but don't look for him to start this summer.
"He's on a 30-inning limit," Moore said. "We'll use him out of the bullpen."
Other Strasburg pitchers with significant starting experience include left-hander Steven Wallace (Desales) and righty Braden Riddle (Chapman).
"A lot of the guys are back-end bullpen guys," Moore said. "They'll come in and get you three to six outs."
Moore has had little time to see much of his team on the field, due to the weather and Strasburg High School's postseason run. One pitcher who has stood out is Baylor junior right-hander Hunter Abbe, who redshirted this spring as the coaching staff worked to change his arm slot to more of a submarine style.
First baseman Joe Camp (Concord) is projected to be "a big stick" in the middle of the Express lineup by Moore. Camp hit .364 with a home run and 43 RBIs for the Mountain Lions in the spring.
Infielder Kevin Baron (La Salle) also put up solid numbers in the spring, posting a .297 batting average with 17 RBIs as a full-time starter. Catcher Jared Watson (Samford) hit .292 with a pair of homers and 25 RBIs in the spring.
"We'll pass the eye test when we get off the bus," Moore said. "This is probably the biggest team that I've every coached or been a part of."
Strasburg opens its season on the road tonight against the Staunton Braves.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>