A building year generally has a negative connotation for sports fans.
But American Legion Twins baseball head coach Hector Rivera is happy to be in a building year this season as the Twins get ready for their opener against Eagle River today in a noon doubleheader at the Kenai Little League fields.
There are two levels of Legion ball — A or junior varsity, and AA or varsity. Last season, the Twins were able to field a AA team but not an A team.
Making matters worse, last season Legion went to a format where every team was not automatically included in the state tournament.
Then, with 10 of the first 11 games counting toward the league record, Rivera had a hard time getting the young players much playing time because he had to focus on rolling up a good enough record to make state.
“Last year was not a developmental year at all,” Rivera said. “It wasn’t until the middle of the season that we were able to play the younger players in nonleague games.”
This year, instead of having about 18 kids on the AA roster, the Twins will have 14 each on the A and AA roster, getting everybody plenty of playing time.
If the Twins had a squad loaded with players ready to age out last season, that lack of playing time for the future could have been disastrous for this year’s squad.
But the Twins lost just three players — Justin Wisnewski, Dallas Pierren and Hector Rivera — after finishing 12-6 in the league and earning the state tournament berth.
“Right now, I see our pitching and defense being a little stronger than our hitting,” coach Rivera said. “But it’s just a matter of getting some playing time and some reps.
“I think we should be just fine. We should have a competitive team this season.”
The Twins return Tommy Bowe at first base, Kenny Griffin at catcher, and Calvin Hills and JJ Sonnen on the middle of the infield.
Joey Becher has another year of maturity on the mound, while first baseman Mason Prior, utility man Tyler Covey, third baseman Justice Miller and first baseman Klayton Justice also return.
Rivera said he expects Miller and Becher to lead the way on the mound, and Bowe to be the closer, but he has no shortage of arms.
“Right now, it seems like everyone on the team can pitch,” Rivera said. “I just need these guys to get some experience, and to get that competitive pitching mind.
“But I think we’ll be seeing some pretty positive things from the pitching staff.”
The coach also said he has heard good things about Kyle Johnson on the hill. Johnson is joining the team from Homer.
Rivera also said the defense will be able to back up the pitching.
“We haven’t played a game yet, but I think the guys we’re going to have out there have seen enough playing time in this league between the last couple of years that they should put on a good show for us this year,” Rivera said.
On offense, Rivera said Griffin, Hills and Bowe will be the horses in the middle of the lineup, but he said the squad has enough depth and speed that scoring runs shouldn’t be a big problem.
In addition to the returners, Jacob Conver joins the team as a backup catcher and Homer’s Michael Swoboda is fighting to make the AA squad.
Matty Daugherty and Cody Quelland are A players who will swing up to the AA level from time to time.
One member of the Twins who won’t make it through the season is Rivera, who is entering his third year as head coach. He has accepted a job out of state and will leave the team in late June. Lance Coz will take over as head coach at that time.
“I said I’d help out the first few weeks, and make sure everything is going how it’s supposed to go,” Rivera said.