Returning for a second year on the Peninsula Oilers staff, last year’s pitching coach Brian Daly will be getting an upgrade.
Daly has been named head coach for the Oilers’ 2016 campaign, and the way Oilers baseball operations manager Mike Baxter sees it, the Champaign, Illinois, native is already cut out for the job.
“I like to say, he already knows how to (pronounce) ‘Kenai,’” Baxter said with a laugh.
“He knows our system, he travels with the team, and I’m impressed with him.”
Daly said with a summer of experience with the organization already under his belt, things are looking bright for 2016.
“Already having the experience of last summer, with the full offseason, we know what we’re up against,” Daly said.
After a summer spent Baxter said promoting Daly to head coach was a natural fit for the team, which wanted to bring back Kevin Griffin for the position but was unable to retain him after Griffin couldn’t refuse an offer to stay with his school, Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
“(Daly is) familiar enough with how we did it last year,” Baxter said. “He knows now what it takes to win in this league.”
The Oilers are also bringing back hitting coach Eli Silverman, another Champaign resident that fit in well with the 2015 coaching staff.
“Eli was pretty much a multitasking, jack-of-all-trades coach,” Baxter said. “He was more of a bench coach, and he works well with infielders.”
Daly said his working relationship with Silverman will hopefully pay dividends by the end of the year, as the team chemistry is expected to be seamless.
“That is one of the biggest helps in the world, to be honest,” Daly said. “Knowing each other’s tendencies, and working together is a big deal, and not only is Eli a good coach, but we’re good friends.”
The 34-year-old Daly returns to coach an Oilers team that went 20-26 overall in 2015. On July 9, approximately midway through the season, the Oilers led the American League with a 12-8 record in ABL play, but ended the summer on a 6-15 stretch that saw them go from a four-game lead to a five-game deficit by the end of the season.
But before 2015 even began, the team had its hands full with bigger problems. Years of funding and gaming revenue had slowly dried up and employment positions were being cut. To add insult to injury, the organization was dealing with the loss of the roof that originally covered the grandstands at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, the Oilers’ home field. High winds blew the roof off the grandstands and press box area in May 2014, just a week before the season was scheduled to start.
However, after months of debating the future of the team, the front office decided to go ahead for the 42nd consecutive season of play.
Leading the 2015 team that nearly didn’t exist at all was Kevin Griffin, whose head coaching position Daly will take over. Daly said moving on without “Griff” will not be easy. The two coaches were former teammates for a Texas team in the now-defunct United League.
“It’s going to be tough missing Griff,” Daly said. “He’s a great coach, and all the credit goes to him for putting together last year’s team.”
When the Oilers announced Griffin as head coach in December 2014, it left the Texas A&M International assistant with the job of rounding up a team at a time when most other ballclubs were finalizing their rosters.
With a full offseason to recruit players and a third member of the coaching staff, Daly said the process the second time around has been much more fluid. This time last year, the Oilers were scrambling to cobble together a team in time for the season, after falling behind the curve due to budget issues.
Now, Daly is nearly finished with the job after having the proper amount of time.
“What we were able to do as a staff last year, and still be in first place late (in the year), it was definitely a good thing,” Daly said. “We had no idea what to expect, and by the last day everybody was pretty happy.”
Daly said the biggest objective of the team in 2016, apart from winning, is to develop players for the future and help ease the transition to bigger leagues. Late in the 2015 season, pitchers Dave Diaz and Paul Lujan were both shipped off to the Frontier League to play for the Rockford (Illinois) Aviators.
Daly — who recently accepted a head assistant coaching position at Southeastern Illinois College, a Division I junior college — has previous experience as a head coach. From 2008 to 2011, he was a head coach of the Under-18 SHOW Junior baseball club in San Diego.
In addition to giving Daly the head coaching position, Baxter added that the Oilers will be making the trip to Fairbanks on June 21 for the annual Midnight Sun game, the only midnight game played in the country without artificial lighting. The last time the Oilers played in the Midnight Sun game was 2004, when they lost 9-1 to the Panners. It was also the most recent year Fairbanks faced an Alaska Baseball League opponent in the game.