Training camp is still five days away, but catcher Luis Alen was in the clubhouse and ready to go by lunchtime on Monday.
Alen is returning to the Winnipeg Goldeyes for a fourth season after a stellar campaign last year that saw him hit .322 and swat 30 doubles, tying for the team lead with outfielder Jon Weber.
After playing in 74 games at catcher and 17 games at first base last season, Alen is slated to be the Goldeyes' everyday catcher once again in 2012.
He didn't hesitate to set the bar high in 2012 for the Goldeyes, who won a franchise-record 60 games last season.
"My expectation is always to get to the championship. I'm always wanting the wins and every day that I come to the field, I come here to win," said Alen, who lives in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela. "We're not going to win 100 games but we are going to try to win at least 60, 70. That's going to help us make the playoffs and hopefully, (go) all the way up to the championship."
Alen will potentially be the first catcher to play four seasons for the Goldeyes. Between the 2007, 2010 and 2011 seasons, he has a .315 average.
"I came here (early) to get ready and try to be 100 per cent the first day and get to know the new pitchers and the new players," Alen said. "I am proud to be here and (there is still) a lot to accomplish. Every season that I come here, there is an honour for me to be in Winnipeg. I love the way they treat you here, the fans, all the people that work in the front office, media. If you get this feeling, you never want to leave."
Alen doesn't leave baseball behind during the winter months. In fact, other than his recent marriage to Karelys, Alen's off-season from the Goldeyes consisted of more baseball.
After playing 93 regular-season games and five playoff games with the Goldeyes, Alen played more baseball in four different countries.
He represented Venezuela at the at the 2011 Baseball World Cup Oct. 1-15 at Panama and at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Oct. 14-30.
He played in Nicaragua in October through January and then finished the winter season in the Colombian Professional Baseball League playoffs. Alen and the Barranquilla Caimanes (Crocodiles) lost 4-2 in the seventh and deciding game of the championship.
That struck a chord with Alen. The Goldeyes last season lost in the fifth and deciding game of the American Association semifinals to the St. Paul Saints.
"I don't want to be close anymore. I want to get it the whole way (to a championship)," Alen said.
"Playing in winter ball, I got better and better hitting and actually learned more about calling games (from behind the plate). I'm ready to help this team again."
The other six returning Goldeyes players from last season's team are infielders Price Kendall and Amos Ramon, outfielders Ridge Carpenter and Jon Weber and starting pitchers Ace Walker and Chris Salamida.
Training camp opens on Saturday at Shaw Park with an open house for fans scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Goldeyes will host the St. Paul Saints on Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Shaw Park in a pair of exhibition games.
DIAMOND DUST: The Goldeyes released pitcher Clayton Shunick on Monday. He will be unable to participate in training camp after suffering a shoulder injury during a workout last week... The Goldeyes now have 25 players signed, 12 pitchers and 13 position players.