Developing talent is an important aspect of the Spokane RiverHawks, but third-year manager Kevin Stocker won’t sit back and be content with losing while developing that talent.
Spokane went 6-30 last year after a 13-17 record in its inaugural campaign. But this year Stocker expects to be more competitive, thanks to a better group of players.
“We’ve got some speed and we’ve got some veteran guys who have played (in the summer) before,” said Stocker, whose RiverHawks open with an exhibition doubleheader against the Trail (British Columbia) Orioles at 1 p.m. today at SFCC before the season starts Tuesday at SFCC against the Bend Elks at 5 p.m.
“The last two years, we haven’t had the quality of players,” Stocker said. “We just have some more Division I guys. We still have some guys from (Community Colleges of Spokane), but just not 11 of them. It’s nice to have some guys from different programs.”
Spokane will join the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League this year after spending two years in the Pacific International League (PIL). Also in the league are the Aloha Knights of Gresham, Ore., last year’s NBC World Series Champions; the Bellingham Bells; the Bend Elks; the Kelowna Falcons; the Kitsap Bluejackets; and the Wenatchee AppleSox.
“The best thing about this new league is that it’s more competitive,” Stocker said. “To play, you still have to have college eligibility. The PIL is a good league, but you have 40- and 45-year-old guys playing. They need to compete against their own age.”
Stocker admits that as the league is meant to be a learning process for the players, it’s been a learning process for him as well.
“I learned, especially in the last two years, that as much as I want to coach them big-league style, it’s kind of like they’re used to being told what to do,” Stocker said. “Last year, I gave everybody the green light to steal and nobody would go. The college level has become so competitive. A lot of the coaches just have their thumb on everything.”
With luck, Stocker said, tightening the reigns on what happens on the field should lead to more wins for the RiverHawks.
“This year, we’re going to do a little more bunting and hit-and-run,” Stocker said. “In the past, I tried to say that this is summer ball, and to get your hacks, but we’re going to have to do some more small-ball stuff. It depends on the talent and how the guys hit.”