Having had a few days to develop chemistry with their new Alaska Baseball League teammates, it's time for some of the top college players in the nation to take the field.
The Anchorage Pilots and Anchorage Bucs will square off Sunday in a season-opening, non-league doubleheader at 2 p.m., at Mulcahy Stadium.
There were 18 players practicing for the Bucs on Friday and general manager Shawn Maltby expected to have 23 players by game time.
"This is the most guys that have been here this early," he said. "I'm really comfortable that we've got some offensive guys. We've got some arms."
Most of the players are in Alaska for the first time and staying with host families, so the first few days require some adjustment, Maltby said.
"It's a nervous environment the first night, but after three or four days, they're just like family," he said. "Once the season gets going, you can relax."
The Pilots also appear to be in good shape for Sunday's opener. They expect about 20 players to be ready, said Pilots general manager Jon Dyson, who was forced to suit up in the second game of last season's opening doubleheader due to lack of players.
"We plan on taking a serious look at local players," he said. "We're open to the idea of picking up a few more to carry us through."
Two local players already on the team are Adam Manzer and Zach Ziemer. Manzer, who won the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year award for the 2010-11 high school season, is a West graduate who now plays catcher for Truman State in Missouri. Ziemer, a left-handed pitcher, is a South grad who plays for Golden West College in California.
Players aren't the only ones getting used to a new environment and a new team. Conor Bird, a pitching coach with the College of Marin, will make his managerial debut for the Pilots.
Bird was a pitching coach with the Mat-Su Miners in 2007, before becoming their manager in 2008. The Miners won a league title in 2007 and led the ABL in ERA both seasons.
Bird and Dyson go way back, having played junior college baseball together at Mendocino College about a decade ago. Dyson, in his fifth year running the Pilots, is glad to have an old friend around to help.
"He is one of the first guys I thought of when looking to get new coaches," Dyson said. "I wanted somebody with Alaska experience, a guy who has done great in the league."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News