The defense will be sharp. The pitching staff will have depth. The players will have more experience. But the Steamboat Springs baseball team will have to wait to see whether those three things will be enough to finish near the top of the Western Slope League.
"We're miles ahead of where we've been in the past with regards to athletic ability and the quality of kids we are getting," said Sailors coach Sean Hicks. "I think our defense is better than it's ever been. ... To say you've got five guys that can pitch, that's a lot. Last year I had two, maybe three."
And it all starts with senior Tyler Fosdick, a multi-sport athlete who loves baseball. Last year, an injured shoulder kept him off the mound and limited him on the field. This year, Hicks said, Fosdick looks healthy.
"He is the best athlete in our league," Hicks said. "Is he the best baseball player? We'll see. I thought he was one of the better players last year, and he was hurt. He couldn't show anybody his arm at all. This year, that will change."
Fosdick, also a shortstop, will be looked to for more than his right arm. Although the Sailors have seven returning players with varsity experience, he is one of the few upperclassmen on the team.
"He has a confidence about him that needs to rub off on some of these other kids," Hicks said. "He's confident in himself, and that's what baseball is all about, being confident in your ability in the game. I can't teach that."
Joining Fosdick on the mound will be Jack Serhant, Ben Montoya, lefty Nick Leader and Zach Savage.
"Ben was our ace pitcher last year," Hicks said. "Jack will help us a lot. Nick has grown, and is throwing harder. Zach has probably increased his velocity more than anyone else, and he's starting to throw strikes now."
Offensively, it's one thing to hit in the cages and another to hit off live pitching in a game. Hicks said he would have to wait to see how his team responds in the batter's box before assessing the Sailors' offensive prowess.
One thing is sure, Steamboat will have to win close games, and there likely will be quite a few close games this league season. Delta is the favorite to win with the return of its two top pitchers.
"I don't know what kind of hitting they will have, but when your two best pitchers go out and shut people down, what can you do?" Hicks said. "Rifle is always on top. Moffat County is a total sleeper."
Last year, the Sailors beat the rival Bulldogs twice. Last season, Steamboat may have had the better team; at least that's what Hicks thinks. This year, however, it may be a more even matchup with Moffat County holding the revenge card.
Eagle Valley, one of Class 3A's top teams last season, now is a member of the 4A Western Slope League, instantly making the league that much more competitive.
The Sailors open play at 12:30 p.m. today against Bayfield in the Paonia Tournament. Steamboat plays Paonia at 3 p.m. The Sailors will play Hotchkiss at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Paonia.
Hicks also said Thursday that this season would be his last. His wife is expecting their second child this summer, giving the couple two children in diapers. Hicks already has told the team, and the search for a coach has begun.
"I'll still be involved in the program," he said.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org