By BRETT MARSHALL
In many ways, the 2014 edition of the Garden City High School Buffaloes baseball team will have a new look.
Same stadium at Clint Lightner, but an all new artificial turf infield, new lights and a new locker room.
That will be just some of the nuances for coach Bill Wilson and the Buffs as they begin their season Tuesday away from the 'new look' Lightner when they hit the road to Great Bend for a 4 p.m. Tuesday doubleheader. It won't be until April 8 that the Buffs will get to unveil the new stadium turf when they host TMP-Marian. In between will be another road trip to Wichita Heights on Friday.
There will be a solid nucleus of players returning for Wilson after the Buffs struggled to a 5-16 record in 2013.
Seniors Ivan Gutierrez, Mario Montoya, Thomas Solorio, Mitchell Hernandez and Emilio Parr all gained experience a year ago.
Solorio is the top returner, having earned all-Western Athletic Conference first team honors at catcher.
"He'll be one of the best players in the conference again," Wilson said of Solorio, who has batted over .350 in each of the last two seasons. "We want to play him in the field some, too, to give him a break from being behind the plate all the time."
Wilson said that the Buffs' pitching corps will be done by committee and will include Montoya, Gutierrez, Hernandez, Parr, sophomore Daven Acker and seniors Daniel Flores and Martin Terrazas.
"From what we saw in our alumni game (2 games, 15 innings), we're going to try and get the guys in to pitch two, three innings at a time," Wilson said. "That way, we'll keep our arms fresh for the upcoming games, because we've got a bunch of games in a short amount of time."
Wilson said he was pleased with his team's defense and the team's ability to cut down on strikeouts at the plate.
"I think our off-season work has shown that we're going to be much better defensively," Wilson said. "Our mechanics have improved, and the repetition of drills has made us so much better."
Wilson credited noted baseball guru Dave Bingham for introducing him and the players to a long list of drills to improve their fundamentals.
"He's been a successful coach at all levels and what he's brought to us is working on things like our upper body, lower body sequential training. In the long run those things will help us, Wilson said."
Wilson said he and the players are excited to be playing on the new turf, with new lighting that is part of a nearly half-million dollar project funded by both the Garden City Recreation Commission and USD 457.
"We'll play 15 of our games on turf (home and away), so I think there will be a lot more consistency with the way the ball bounces," Wilson said. "It's an amazing change that has been made and we couldn't be happier."
A new face on the roster will be junior third baseman-outfielder Jacob Rivas, a transfer from Plainview, Texas. Junior Marcus Zapata will likely be the center fielder while Eden Arreola is being ticketed for second base duties. When he's not pitching, or backing up Solorio, Acker will also play some shortstop. Wilson said he didn't know for sure who would be in the specific outfield positions, but indicated it also could include seniors Josh Rosas and Ricky Hinojos.
"We're still tinkering with the lineup, trying to find the right mix," Wilson said. "I'm a bit concerned about our lack of experience and a true center fielder. We'll see how that settles out."
April 1--at Great Bend; April 4--at Wichita Heights; April 8--TMP-MARIAN; April 11--WICHITA NORTH; April 15--at Dodge City; April 22--at Hays High; April 25--DODGE CITY; April 29--WORD OF LIFE; May 3--LIBERAL; May 8--PRATT; May 9-10--At Emporia Inv.; May 16--at Wichita Southeast.