Legion baseball team tunes up for season opener

MIDDLEBURY — As the calendar flips to the hotter months, so too begins the summer baseball season. And for many of the area’s top baseball players, the summer means one thing — American Legion baseball.
For Addison County, the contingent of Middlebury, Mount Abraham and Vergennes union high school ball players join forces once again as they compete in the Northern Division of Vermont American Legion Baseball.
Like the seasons before, the expectations in 2013 are lofty for AC, a group that lost only a handful of players, although all proved to be key pieces to their success. Tommy Nelson, Mark Dickerson, Ian Campbell, Collin Curler, Nick Richer and Nick Ouellette are the individuals who will not be returning this summer.
Nonetheless, head coach Mike Estey and assistant Jim Lutton are confident that veteran players and leaders will help an AC roster that will see seven new faces.
“I’m excited about the season,” Estey said. “A feather in Marshall (Hastings’) cap with what he brings, what Devin (Hayes) brings, the leadership they bring … they will be the guys that kids look up to not only on the field, but in the dugout as well.”
Although the veterans will be leaned on to help the team be successful, the impact of rookies on the squad is equally important.
“Some of them are going to fill holes for us,” said Estey. “We lost key kids. Some of them are going to play big roles.”
The seven newcomers for AC are Aaron Smith, Tyler Delancey, Josh Stearns, Josiah Benoit, Chris Leach, Dylan Raymond, and former Otter Valley athlete Colton Aines.
And although AC does return the majority of their starting nine from the season before, there are still holes to be filled in the infield.
“Tommy Nelson was solid for us at third,” said Lutton. “You never expected him to have a bad day.”
Also missing from the infield will be shortstop Curler, who, with his older brother Cam, has manned the position ever since Estey and Lutton took the program over. Despite the loss of Curler, Sawyer Kamman is expected to start and perform well at shortstop when he isn’t pitching.
Second base also remains a question mark with the departure of Richer, as AC will look to move some players around to fill the needs.
First base is expected to be held down by Wade Steele, with Aines also available.
The outfield appears to be rather solid, with Ian Shaw in left, Hastings in center, and the tandem of Hayes and Charlie Stapleford in right, as either Hayes or Stapleford is expected to play the position while the other pitches.
Although Shaw is an excellent option in left field, there is the possibility of moving Shaw to second, a position he played while in high school at Mount Abe, and using Smith, a rookie from Middlebury, in left field. Smith, who will be entering his senior campaign next spring, has proven himself as the centerfielder for the Tiger squad, as he has held down the position for three straight seasons.
Hayes also provides some flexibility for AC, as he can move to shortstop when Kamman is on the hill and will even compete for innings at third base, if needed.
Behind the plate, AC will use a combination of individuals. Casey Covey is expected to get the majority of the innings, but both Stapleford and Steele are options if needed to fill in.
A top three of Stapleford, Hayes, and Kamman, who are all capable of being successful pitchers throughout the summer, will anchor the pitching staff. Smith will be looking to pick up some key innings, along with Benoit. Shaw and Hastings are also options for AC on the hill to eat up innings to preserve the arms at the top of the rotation.
“I think pitching has to be looked at as a strength,” said Estey. “Pitching and defense. We are going to be solid up the middle. Maybe it’s Ian who makes the transition back to second, or one of these young kids. With Marshall in center, we are anchored pretty well (up the middle).”
Younger players who will be looked at for a role off the bench as a possible DH include Raymond and Stearns, or a veteran like Aines. Raymond, who plays first, will be behind Steele but still possesses a bat capable of doing damage, as does Stearns. Stearns, however, will be looked at to compete for the starting third base job.
Another edge that AC has is its speed, with Hastings and Shaw at the top of the order, but also off the bench with players like Delancey, among others.
“I think we’ll be quick on the bases,” Estey said. “We look pretty quick, with guys running everything out hard, and that puts pressure on the defense. That’s been our motto, to play hard and make them make mistakes, play small ball.”
With a group of veterans and rookies, AC still holds the expectation of gaining a top four seed in the North and going down to Castleton — site of the season-ending state tournament — to compete for the state title.
“(We aim) to get one of those top four spots,” said Estey. “It’s about who gets hot that weekend, gets some breaks, solid pitching, some of our younger guys coming along, some of that pitching comes along. Last year we were an inning away from going 2-0 in the tournament, going into the last inning against the Colchester Cannons.”
And with a group of players that have experienced championship campaigns and competitive seasons, the building blocks are present for a solid squad.
“We want to get into the tournament, and go down to the tournament and play well. Go down and represent ourselves well,” Coach Estey said. “If we do that, we’ve got a shot at winning.”
Marshall Hastings is a summer intern at the Addison Independent.

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