FAIRFIELD — Finding players wasn’t a chore this spring for Norm Thompson, founder and general manager of the Fairfield Indians collegiate baseball team.
Finding a place to play all them all? Now, that might be a problem.
The Indians, managed by Daman Evans, return “15 or 16 players,” according to Thompson, with at least 17 others on a team whose lineup changes daily depending on who has to work, is on vacation or who gets stuck in traffic.
“We had 32 guys in a two-week tryout for the team, all of them in college either redshirting or their college season was through,” Thompson said. “So we were able to pick.”
The Indians, in their 36th season after being founded by Thompson in 1978 – “The same year I graduated from Sonoma State (University),” he said – and the rest of the Sacramento Rural League went exclusively to college players two years ago.
“Last year we switched. We’ve always had college guys on the team, ever since we started, but sometimes it’s been half and half,” Thompson said. “The past few years it’s been more college than regular older guys, kids out of school. Last year our league and the team decided to go all college because it’s easier to get guys and easier to work with.”
And having a large roster makes it easier to work around some players just not being able to be there every game.
“You can see we’re real deep all around and versatile,” Thompson said. “I keep so many guys because a lot of guys work and have summer vacations. They’ve been playing ball since last August.
“There are new guys we really haven’t had a chance to work in. They will be worked in over a 45-, 50-game schedule.”
According to Thompson, having a big roster has increased versatility, no matter who can’t make it to the game.
“When going through the roster, we’re pretty deep all the way around,” Thompson said. “Somebody goes down, we’ve got somebody to come in as a replacement. Somebody’s not there, we’ve got somebody to replace them. We don’t lose a step by somebody not being ready to play.”
Even with so many new players, Thompson said the strength of the team “has to do with the returning players that we have. We have 15, 16 guys coming back. Once our pitching staff comes back together – we’ve still got a couple guys that are out – we’re going to have a pretty good pitching staff.”
Returning pitchers include Nate Gercken (Pinole Valley High, Academy of Arts), Ben Monroe (Vintage of Napa, Santa Rosa JC), Zack Mandrik (Rodriguez, Redlands), Phil Chavez (Wood, Diablo Valley College), Daniel Galvez (Gateway of San Francisco, City College of San Francisco), Chris Suarez (Washington of San Francico, Contra Costa College), Prejon Bynum (Bethel of Vallejo, Contra Costa), Jason Paukei (Fairfield, Sacramento City College) and David Gustafson (Fairfield, Solano Community College).
Newcomers on the mound are J.P. Morgan (Belgium), Kurtis Bluford (Armijo, Napa Valley College), Francisco Avilez (La Sierra University), Tyler Scharnow (Weston Ranch of Manteca, CCSF), Julian Clarke (Westport, Conn., and Washington University of St. Louis) and Ryan Perkins (Rodriguez).
Thompson said he plans to go with three catchers with Ian Acosta (Vacaville, Solano) being “No. 1″ on his list. Evan Faccenda (Vanden, Solano) and Mark Mills (Rodriguez) will also see time behind the plate, especially with the Indians playing at least one doubleheader nearly every weekend..
“It’s kind of hard to catch two full games,” Thompson said.
First base figures to be shared by Joey Moro (South San Francisco, CCSF) and Mike Brown (Fairfield), with Mills also in the mix.
Returner Rubert Watson (Hogan of Vallejo, Napa Valley) is at second base, though newcomer Danny Mills (Rodriguez, Solano, Simpson University) “might go over and play some,” Thompson said.
Paukei is back at shortstop, though Danny Mills and Tyler Hall (Benicia High, San Francisco State) – “Man that guy’s fast,” Thompson said – can also play the position.
Thompson calls returner Chris McCollister (Fairfield, Bluefield College) “our anchor at third base,” though he’ll be backed up by Hall and Andrew Wheat (Benicia, Napa Valley).
As with everywhere else, the Indians’ outfield is loaded with candidates.
“We’ll move our outfielders around,” Thompson said, though he figures on using Damian Marshall Jr. (Pinole Valley, University of Saint Mary) in left, Bryce Hutchings (Fairfield, Contra Costa) in center and Dareion Evans (Rodriguez, Solano) in right.
Others in the mix are Hall, Wheat, Evan Ray (John Swett of Crockett, Contra Costa), Timmion Hughes (Bethel, Contra Costa), Lamar Smith (Fairfield, Contra Costa), Aaron Cherry (Armijo, Napa Valley) and Clayton Reza (Benicia, Sac City).
The key to making 2014 a winning season, Thompson said, is “playing together as a team, being consistent on offense, defense and primarily pitching, all of it working together. I’m a team person and my coaches are, too. I feel if we play together as a team, success will come. Playing as individuals, it’s not going to happen.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.