Although the early week snow belies it, one sure sign of spring has arrived in Pagosa Country — baseball.
The Pagosa Springs High School baseball team began practicing Feb. 28, and will see their first competition Tuesday in Cortez.
Of the 27 athletes on the team at the start of the season, six are returning regulars — All-Conference catcher Koby Close, senior first baseman Mason Laverty, Sean Blanchard at second, shortstop Austin DeVooght, WIll Laverty in left field and Ty Lovato, who pitched and played third base last season.
Three other players — Tyson Ross, Clay Ross and Daniel Puskas — are expected to join the team following the basketball playoffs in Fort Collins this weekend.
New to the team are six freshman and a senior, Austin Jackson, whom Coach Dave Close says is capable of playing infield and outfield, as well as adding another arm to the pitching staff.
In addition to Mason Laverty and Jackson, the Pirates will lose two other players to graduation at the end of the season — Lee Clark and Ty Vaivoda.
As the season begins, fans can expect to see much of the same style of play the Pirates put forth at the end of last season, with platoon-style pitching (at least through the first portion of the season) and an offensive game based on running to utilize the team’s speed, Close said.
In fact, Close said he intends to treat the team’s first contest in Cortez Tuesday as a scrimmage, putting each of the team’s possible pitchers on the mound for an inning to assess their ability in game situations.
“Baseball is so much pitching,” Close said, adding the team has several members able to pitch, but no dominating pitchers to rely on. “Almost half the team can pitch. The problem is no one has stepped forward.”
The game will also be the first chance for the Pirates to pitch off of a mound this season due to the early spring conditions of the diamond at Golden Peaks Stadium.
Snowfall and saturated ground have left the team, as usual, practicing on the black top of the high school parking lot and the various school district gyms.
“If you’re going to play baseball in Pagosa, you’ve got to dress warm and get used to playing on black top,” Close said.
The lack of playing on the field has also left Close unsure of the team’s true power in terms of hitting (the team has only been hitting in a cage), but he said he expects the team to execute a lot of hit and run plays instead of being a team of power hitters.
One area where Close has little doubt in his squad is defensively.
“If they hit is where we have a chance to catch it, we’ll be OK defensively,” Close said, noting the team’s defensive prowess in the middle of the field. “That’ll be a big plus for us.”
With a number of unknowns still left with the team due to practicing conditions, the Pirates will have eight games by March 26 in which to figure out and work on those issues before facing conference competition in April and May.
“When we’re driving back from La Junta on the 26th, we’ll have an idea of what we need to work on and where we stand,” Close said.
The Pirates won’t see home action until the second half of the season, when they welcome Centauri High School to their newly upgraded home field.
Last fall, tens of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind donations, as well as $11,000 from Archuleta County 1A funds, were spent upgrading the diamond’s surface, the dugouts, concession stands, press box, bathrooms and more.
After a weekend away in Bayfield, the Buccaneers will round out the season’s schedule at home with doubleheaders against Piedra Vista High School and Monte Vista High School.
The Pirates also face an extra conference challenge and challenger this season.
With the addition of Alamosa to the conference, the season will not finish with a tournament to decide who will advance to the playoffs. Instead, the top three teams in the league standings will advance.