GLADSTONE - A contingent of hungry Rapid River baseball players are ready to lead the Gladstone Indians into action, starting tonight. However, they will have to shoulder quite the load throughout at least the first month of the American Legion season.
With the advent of baseball returning to Gladstone High School, the Indians won't have those players to draw from until the Braves' season ends, so the team will rely very heavily on middle school-aged players.
"We're young, we're very young," said new manager Andy Schwartz, who comes to the team after years of coaching girls softball. JIm Groleau will stay on as an assistant coach. "Some of the kids played last year for the Junior Indians when they were in seventh grade. They're in eighth grade this year."
Returning to the team is a very solid core of Rapid River's Jake Pearson, Hayden Hardwick and Lucas Bero and Gladstone's Cody Frazer, who graduated last May and led the team in batting average last season.
Pearson figures to be the ace of the pitching staff and also brings an accurate bat to the table while Hardwick brings power to the plate.
Additionally Rapid River's Josh Parrett and Craig Martin join the team, but the rest of the Indians will be very young.
Schwartz sees potential in middle schoolers' Ben Schwalbach, Braden Lambert and Owen Hanson but acknowledged his team is going to take some lumps until the high school lets out.
A sixth Rapid River player, middle schooler Mason Berglund will not be available at the start of the season after hurting his ankle toward the end of basketball season.
"The seventh and eighth graders are working hard. They're listening and working and I see a lot of improvement from the gym to right now," he said. "I told the kids, we can't sit there and mope if things aren't going good because we aren't winning. We'll win some ball games, you just have to take things one step at a time. We're going to make mistakes, that's for sure, you just have to learn from them and get ready from the tournament."
The team currently has 17 players, though Schwartz said track meets may deprive him of his Rapid River players for a few games.
"Jim Groleau did his best between the two schools with track meets and the like. It looks like we'll have them for most games, but there's a couple where we won't have the Rapid River kids and it will be real tight then. That takes away six of my 17 players and leaves me with all seventh and eighth graders. But Schwalbach, Lambert and Hanson have some good arms, swing pretty decent bats and play the field well. They're all working hard."
The team opens tonight, hosting Marquette, though Schwartz said he is treating the game more like a scrimmage.
"We're going to talk to Marquette and try to get it like a scrimmage, work on some things and get the young guys going," he said. "We're not putting a lot of stock in it. Our goal is to get everyone playing time so we know who can do what. Right now, there's a ways to go."