The exhibition season breezed by in a blink, and now the Winnipeg Goldeyes' slate is clean -- at least, until the first pitch flies tonight.
It's opening day, all right. Time for these Fish to get down to business.
"Everybody's looking forward to it," said Goldeyes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea Wednesday from the Goldeyes' hotel in Amarillo, Texas. "We have a handful of guys that were in spring training with organized teams, so they've had a little taste of some baseball... and everybody's pretty excited to start playing some meaningful games."
The first of those is set for Amarillo tonight, where the Goldeyes open their season with a four-game stand against the Sox. Then they'll rumble down to Laredo to face the Lemurs for three tilts, before heading north to Nebraska to battle the Lincoln Saltdogs for three more. When that series is done, the Fish will race home to Shaw Park to host the Sioux City Explorers in their home opener on May 26.
By the time they're back in friendly territory, manager Rick Forney will have a better handle on what kind of damage this roster can do. From his vantage, the early returns have been promising. "I like our team," Forney said concisely, after making his final pre-season roster moves Tuesday. "I like our players, I like our pitching."
It goes without saying the exhibition games mean nothing, now -- still, let the record show that the Fish went 5-1 through the pre-season, with one game cancelled by rain.
In their last three wins, the Goldeyes had plenty of offence, just as a quick scan of the roster suggested this group could bring: 7-6 in Lincoln, 6-3 in Kansas City, 10-1 against the T-Bones again on Tuesday. In that latter match, every batter in the lineup got at least one hit, most had more than one and outfielder Josh Mazzola registered three hits in five at-bats.
Though roster rules forced the Fish to bit adieu to Amos Ramon, the lineup that remains looks bold on paper. Things can change, but expect the team to saddle up with Casey Haerther at first base, former Northern League player of the year Jake Blackwood at second, Ryan Pineda at third and Tyler Kuhn as shortstop.
Meanwhile, in the green expanses of the outfield, Josh Mazzola, Donnie Webb and former major-leaguers Reggie Abercrombie and Ray Sadler will all figure in. Behind the plate, fans will usually find Luis Alen, with returning rookie Jordan Guida backing him up. All of them can hit and get on base in various ways: Webb is a noted thief who notched 30 steals in the Can-Am League last year, while only getting caught four times.
That's all good news for the pitching staff, no slouches either.
"When your offence is going up there and scoring runs, it allows you to pitch a little bit more freely," said Vermilyea. "It's going to happen that we're going to pitch one game and not hit, and hit one game and not pitch... but obviously, having the lineup we have is a big advantage this year. We're going to be putting some runs on the board."
Those predictions could be music to Fish fans' ears, should the team perform as they are theoretically able. On that end? Nobody is more ready to find out than the coaches and players.
"We're all just wanting to get going," Vermilyea said. "We've been waiting for this first game for a long time."