NORTH ADAMS -- This year’s version of the MCLA baseball team will have a strong local feel to it.
A young Trailblazer squad will feature 12 former Berkshire County baseball players this season. Five of those players hale from North County. Former Drury players Chase Preite and Tyler Benoit return for their sophomore seasons. Robert Jutras and Slayter Aubin join them as Drury alumni on the team. Hoosac Valley’s Nate Alibozek is also on the team.
"It’s been a long time coming," Trailblazer coach Jeff Puleri said. "We’re starting to get some name recognition and just some people believing in the program. They are all good ball players."
The Trailblazers open the season today by kicking off a 10-game slate in Florida with two games against Eastern Mennonite.
Puleri is hoping the team will be able to garner some experience with its trip.
Outfielder Joe Duncan, a former Wahconah player, is the teams only senior this season. They will also feature just seven juniors.
"It’s important to get the experience," Puleri said. "Also you’re going down there looking for answers. As I tell my players ‘everyone looks good indoors.’ It’s true. The pitchers look better, the hitters look better. You have to ultimately go down and find out. There is a different level of competitiveness when you are playing an opponent rather than a teammate."
One of the many answers the Trailblazers will be searching for involves the pitching staff.
Puleri doesn’t see a true No. 1 pitcher on the roster yet, but is hoping depth will work in its favor.
Junior Ross Minor and Benoit will both be counted on to log a lot of innings for the Trailblazers. Cody Weaver and Jutras should also expect to see some time on the mound.
"I don’t really believe that we have a true ace," Puleri said. "But I’ve got some guys that I feel can do the job. I’m hoping we’re just going to ride the hot hand."
Another question mark looms at shortstop. Sophomore Mike Sullivan is returning from a knee injury and is expected to get the nod as the starter. J.T. Ferraro, a transfer from Dominican College, could also see some time in the middle infield. Preite started much of last season at second base, but could see time in the outfield to allow for adjustments. Rory Slattery is expected to move from short to third as part of the rotation.
Sophomore Alon Willing should see the majority of time behind the plate. Freshman Ryan Shook and Aubin could challenge for that position.
"I feel like we have some depth and competition at spots," Puleri said. "I hope that drives everyone to really put their best efforts forward."
MCLA will be looking to build from last year’s 14-23 record. The Trailblazers were picked to finish last in the MASCAC preseason poll earlier in the season.
"We have to start winning games," Puleri said. "When you start winning games people will notice. I told my players ‘you could be first or eighth. Everyone is still 0-0.’ "