GLADSTONE - The Gladstone Indians American Legion baseball team expect to be formidable at the state level this season. It's just going to take time for them to reach their full potential.
"The early part of our schedule is going to be tough going. We'll have to do a lot of resting of the arms," said manager Jim Groleau. "We might take some lumps early on, but our goal is to get healthy for the middle of July."
By tournament time, Groleau expects the Indians will be able to contend for the Legion state title. It's easy to see why when looking at the Indians roster.
Most of the Gladstone Braves team that made a Division 3 state semifinal appearance will appear on the Indians, including Christian Tackman, Christian Groleau, Jake Peterson, Justin Jurek, Tom Bailey, Ben Schwalbach, Elliot Danhoff and Jack Stephenson.
"For the most part, we have most of the high schoolers," said manager Groleau. "Drake Draze didn't come out and Sam Pouliot, we don't know what his status is - That could be a big blow for us if he doesn't come out because coming off the high school season we have a lot of tired arms, and he's one of the few with a healthy arm. A lot of these guys are sore."
Jurek will be unavailable to pitch for the Indians this season due to a lingering ligament issue, and is currently unable to play in the infield as well.
"That puts us a little behind the 8-bal too," said Groleau. "We do have both Rapid River boys, Jake and Hayden, and by adding those two to what we had with the high school team, anything short of the state finals will be a disappointment as far as we're concerned. That's not just my opinion, that's the opinion of all the kids on this team."
The Indians also expect to get contributions from some of the younger players on their roster such as Bark River transfer eighth grader Logan Heim, returnee Braden Lambert and Mid Peninsula freshman Duane Englund. Heim had the winning hit in a season opening 7-5 win against Niagara, Wis. Monday night and Englund had two hits, as did Christian Groleau. Heim also earned the win on the mound.
"We have some very promising up and comers. They've proven themselves already through our juniors," said Groleau. "They've made big strides since last year and at some point this season they'll have to step up and help us out."
That opportunity could come sooner than later until the Indians heal up. The two healthiest arms the Indians currently have appear to be Jake Pearson and Hunter Garling, however at full health, the staff easily goes five deep.
"Christian Tackman and Christian Groleau both have shoulder trouble right now," said manager Groleau. "(Groleau) will probably throw on a limited basis this year and CT if we can get him healthy. He only threw 10 innings in high school and had issues with his shoulder all along. We're deep at pitching if we're healthy, but right now we're not, and that's a concern. Jake throws for us, but seeing as he wasn't part of the high school team, tonight (Thursday) was his first practice. Him and Hayden are both middle of the order hitters and neither have seen live pitching, so we'll go in pretty green with those two guys, but Jake once he gets his arm built up will definitely be on the mound for us. He'll probably get a few innings this weekend, but he hasn't thrown since basically August, so we'll have to take it easy with him."
Robert Hardwick will assist Groleau on the coaching staff this season, along with Rodney Schwalbach. Pete Peterson will also help out, while Lucas LaCosse will assist with the Junior Indians.
The Indians will be tested early, beginning tonight in the three-day Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournament. The Indians will play a doubleheader Friday and Saturday night in pool play, with the semifinals and championship game on Sunday.
"We're going to face stiff competition right off the bat. We might take some lumps this weekend and we might surprise some people too," said Groleau. "We'll see how the arm situation holds out, but anyway it comes out, we're just looking forward to getting things rolling, getting into a rhythm and getting ready for mid-July."
The Indians will also have their hands full with in-county rival Escanaba. The Cubs also have state title aspirations.
"It's a rivalry every year. Some years the talent level separates a little, but when it comes down to games with Escanaba, it's always a tough battle no matter what the records are," said Groleau. "This year, it's even a little bit better because we both know we have good teams. We expect to battle with them right down to the wire, and wouldn't it be nice if Escanaba and Gladstone matched up in the last game of the season in Gladwin?"
Groleau said his team is motivated to take that extra push this season after coming close twice in the last year.
"A lot of these kids in the last two tournament runs have come up one run shy from the championship game," he said. "Last year in Legion ball and this year in high school ball, they were one run away. we talked about it last night at our first practice. We're not going to settle for one run short this time."