Today is the day. Spring or no spring. Snow or no snow. Baseball season has come. Despite the fact many teams have yet to even leave the gym, it's time to play ball.
On Thursday, the Norristown Eagles split time between batting practice in the gym and fielding groundballs in the high school parking lot while their field sits unturned and weeded out.
Methacton, meanwhile, stands as the sole exception to our abysmal weather, hanging out in 80-degree Orlando for preseason practices. However, once the season begins the Warriors will play their first 10 games on the road while the field is (finally) fixed for flooding issues.
Friday afternoon, the season begins, ready or not. Norristown will travel to Pope John Paul II for the opener, weather permitting.
The Eagles will rely heavily on a solid senior staff this season. First-year coach Rich Campbell is looking to the middle of the field for production: Vince Catagnus (CF/LF) and Dave Randolph (CF/RF) will solidify the outfield, three-year varsity catcher Chris Curll will return as will No. 1 pitcher JT Vaughn.
"Third base will be a young position for us. It's between Tom Detwiler and Reggie Collins, two team leaders on JV last year, who were well prepared and came through against good pitching,' Campbell said.
Beyond Vaughn on the mound, Campbell said newcomer from Christopher Dock Andy Faunce and Alec Proietto will fill the first three spots, but beyond that Campbell will need younger players to step up in a big way, especially considering he isn't working with a lefty on the roster. Diavante Lloyd, freshman quarterback in the fall, will be an impact player for the Eagles and the sole frosh to make the varsity roster.
"He's got a mature body with a big arm ... his thing will be harnessing it, getting it under control, getting his mechanics down and being consistent,' Campbell said.
Plymouth Whitemarsh (5-15)
Despite a lackluster season last year, coach Chris Manero found growth in his young players and expects a much more competitive season in 2014.
"We were learning on the job,' Manero said. "If we can improve on base-running, scoring more runs, we can see huge improvements from last year.'
Aside from losses of graduated seniors Austin DiBonaventure, who now plays for Chestnut Hill College and Rob Pecharo, the Colonials have much of last year's squad intact.
They'll be touting strong starting pitching between Mike Whalon, Ben Raeder and Zach Metz, who impressed over the summer in Legion play, and also Jon Fisher who has verbally committed to playing at James Madison University.
Last year's catcher Matt Nardo will move full-time to shortstop, while the outfield will remain the same with offensive-leader Connor Purdy, Jordan Mitchell, Will Kane, and Dutch Reardon returning.
"Last year, record-wise, we struggled. But I didn't feel we weren't that far from being prepared,' Manero said.
Strong arms will lead the Trojans again this season. Despite losing two top pitchers, one of which Randy Frankenfield now pitches at York College, Wissahickon will again dictate their game from the mound.
"We've got a lot of arms this year, the most since I've taken over,' said coach Shannon Gunby.
Brett Downey, Jake Seagal, Will Brownlove, Jimmy Gorman, Lee Dugger and Julian Osterneck will all have opportunities on the mound this season.
"Offensively we probably possess the most speed we've had in years and also a very solid hitting lineup top to bottom,' Gunby said. "It will ultimately come down to execution.'
Two juniors will play middle infield, a sophomore at third and a battle at first between two players who haven't covered the bag yet. Yet, Gunby refers to the team as "young, but experienced.'
Their strength, he said, will be a solid defensive middle of the field. Junior Nick Falso has developed as a high-caliber player at shortstop; he'll partner with Ryan Becker at second base and Blake Rappaport at the hot corner. Gannon University-bound Matt Oruch will start his third season at center field, and he'll be flanked by Dugger and Julian Osterneck when they aren't on the mound.
Pope John Paul II (2-10)
With the addition of John Duffy as skipper, who formerly coached Germantown Academy to an 80-14 record over three seasons, the Golden Panthers are aiming to build a winning program.
"I'm a super competitive person, I strive to win games,' Duffy said. "It's good to be back as head coach ... we have a really good chance to make a difference in the PAC-10.'
Duffy said he's working with a very "veteran-laden team' with 15 seniors on the squad, eight or nine of whom will see significant playing time.
Josh Lafferty, a Widener recruit, is set to be the opening-day starter for the Panthers. He'll be backed by Evan Myers, Trevor O'Brien and Dan Zurowski. Duffy said as far as pitching, the Panthers are "set with depth.'
James Bleming will return as starting shortstop, while Joey Pedorenko will again hit second in the order.
"We didn't win a lot last year, but we're going to learn how to win close games,' Duffy said. "These guys have talent. They've worked extremely hard and they've bought into what we're trying to do.
La Salle College High School (20-6)
Just two seasons off a state championship, the Explorers are set again to repeat as the Philadelphia Catholic League champions. Coach Joe Parisi is working with a full program with many tools at his disposal.
"We have a lot of good players, guys who have had to wait their turn but are ready to step up,' Parisi said.
First-Team All-PCL pitcher Dom Cuoci will be the starting-day No. 1, while Duke-commit Jim Heron will back him up. Lefty John Scheffey, another college-bound pitcher, will complete the three-man starting lineup.
"We have a nice mix, good depth, with guys that can hit,' Parisi said.
And while Parisi warns that the first couple weeks may not be the Explorers' best, they will surely again compete for the Catholic League title.
Graduating two of the area's top players will be rough on any team and assuredly losing players of the caliber of Tyler Kirkpatrick (the 2013) Times Herald Athlete of the Year) and Clay Harwick will be hard to overcome.
Yet, the Methacton players aren't worried.
Returning are Glenn Seymour (C), Austin Bregman (SS), and Tim Carfrey (LF), who led the offensive onslaught that helped the Warriors to the District One quarterfinals last season.
"It's hard to replace (Kirkparick and Harwick), but our line one-through-nine might be a little deeper this year,' said coach Paul Spiewak. "I feel like we'll be able to put some runs on the board.'
The Warriors' perceived weakness will be on the mound, where they won't have any returning players. Even more difficult will be the fact that Methacton's field will be under construction until mid-April while the Warriors' baseball team will start their first 10-or-more games on the road.
Upper Dublin (6-12-2)
With another fairly young team, the Cardinals will lean on a deep bullpen with not a lot of experience to carry the team through the Suburban One Conference. Yet, with the playing field at Upper Dublin still unplayable, the question marks overshadow possible strengths.
"We've only been out on the field once this season,' said coach Ed Wall.
But with a solid lineup returning — John Lee, Conor McFadden, James White, Colt Swiger — Wall hopes they can play with smart hitting and a little bit of speed.
North Penn (18-10)
The reigning PIAA AAAA state champions rarely mention last season's tremendous achievement. They simply look ahead.
"To go into any season and expect a state championship is unrealistic,' said Knights' coach Kevin Manero. "The good thing is we don't talk about (the state championship) too much ... everyone just wants to start playing.'
With the loss of Brady West, the most consistent hitter in the lineup, the Knights will ask much out of younger players to produce runs. Eddie Posevic, Bobby Scott and Matt Stella will be key offensive contributors.
Dylan Borawski and Brian Maher have graduated, and now Noah Melchior will be looked upon to lead the pitching staff.
"He saw time on varsity. He's got a big arm, pitcher's body with good stuff,' Manero said.
Perkiomen Valley (14-8)
Losing a bunch of senior players have left many holes to fill in the Vikings starting lineup — they graduated 11 seniors of 13 players on the roster. However, this will open up space for a full-cast of young talent to contribute to another run at the PAC-10 Final Four.
Infielder Matt Kellar, who hit .229 last season, will be the main returning contributor from last season. The Vikings will instead look to a stacked junior class to put up runs and help the pitching staff have success.
The Rams graduated pitchers Tyler Eckman, Kyle McKelvy and centerfielder Nick Fuhrmeister in the offseason, but have returning a strong cast of contributors from last year's squad. With the return of Villanova-bound David Gulati, Corey Rantz and Connor Murphy, Connor Klemann who all hit over .300 and 10-plus RBI, the offensive production of the Spring-Ford team remains intact.
Junior Zack Zoller also added 13 runs, nine RBI and four doubles in 35 AB.
Despite a lackluster season in terms of wins and missing the playoffs last year, the Rams could be contenders for tops in the PAC-10 — if only they can make a dent in Boyertown.
Pitching-wise, the Rams return Mark Breitenbach, Cody Brown and Cameron Simmons and will be ready to go.
Lansdale Catholic (9-11)
Under first-year coach David Scott, the Crusaders will be pitching-by-committee in that they aim to win games through depth in arms. With six senior pitchers on the staff — Matt Kress, Jack Merlino, Chris Wallace, Kevin Krier, Sean McMonagle and Frankie Fusca — the squad will have tremendous depth and could surprise some teams if younger players step up and perform.
After a year absent from the PCL playoffs, the Crusaders are determined to again return to prominence behind their stacked senior squad.
Upper Merion (3-17)
The Vikings just couldn't put it all together last season. By early-May, Upper Merion finally had begun scratching out wins. But regardless of their heart and effort, the Vikings did not have the season they intended.
"We got a good core of guys with a positive outlook coming back,' said coach Matt Mitchell. "They're carrying the positivity over from the end of last season.'
Carmen Fortino and Brendan Steiner, who were both all-league selections last season and both hit close to .400, will be the key contributors to the Vikings' success this season. Andrew and Alex Del Guidice, Adam Bradway and sophomore Troy Thomas will be large contributors offensively.
"We're stressing that we need to increase our fielding percentage, something close to 95 percent,' Mitchel said. "And I'd also like to see our ERA come down a run.'
Germantown Academy (8-20)
With only two wins in the Inter-Academic League last season, the Patriots will look to pitching depth to generate wins this year. Robert Gorman and Bobby Flood were two key departures for GA, but with Zeke Zabinski as the sole senior returner, aided by juniors John Aiello, Ryan Calhoun and Ryan DeWalt, the Patriots tout a strong class of returning role-players.
In all, 14 players are returning to which coach Tyler Stampone said are "a year older and wise.' Stampone hopes the team will be able to pitch and defend well to compete in the "dangerous' Inter-Ac league.
Pitching depth and defense will be the keys to winning games, with manufacturing offense standing as a question mark coming into the season.
Archbishop Carroll (12-8)
If Evan Harvey's seven homeruns is any indication, his departure from the Patriots' squad will leave a dent in the offensive production. Between Harvey and the losses of Eric McGough, Dan Bier and Steve Dengler, the Patriots' aren't entirely stripped down to the foundation, but a major renovation is required.
Yet, the pitching staff will remain in much better shape. The return of Matt Lafferty, Richard Funchio, Brian Chesky and J.J. Cicala, who all posted impressive seasons, will be key to the Patriots' run at the PCL title.
In particular, the lanky 6-foot-4 Chesky will be a player to watch.