Ada Post 72 Braves coach Travis Graham will have a long wish list when he hosts tryouts for the 2011 American Legion Baseball season next Sunday at East Central University.
The Braves have reached the state tournament in each of the three summers since Graham revived Legion baseball in the Ada area in 2008, and for the second straight year he will enter the season having to rebuild after losing key players to age restrictions.
“We do have a lot of spots open,” Graham said. “We lost a lot of guys who played a lot a lot of different positions, but we’re in a good area to find replacements.
“We’ve had a lot of spots to fill the last couple of years, and we’ve managed to stay competitive,” he added. “They’re not holes — they’re just opportunities for other guys.”
With the end of a 2010 season in which the Braves finished 32-18, Graham said goodbye to three of his top pitchers (Jon Gray, David Cagle and Tyler Porter), his two leading hitters (center fielder and leadoff hitter Salyer Saxon and first baseman Tim Wallen), one of his two catchers (Ryan Stoup) and one of his two third basemen (Jesse Cashman).
“We didn’t really have our team together a lot of last year (because of other commitments during the summer), but that gave a lot of kids an opportunity to play,” Graham said.
Despite their personnel losses, the Braves will return a solid nucleus, including pitchers Rhett Acker, Nolan Fanning, Blake Logan and Jordan Boone, catcher Tanner Bell and infielders Hunter Marcum, Jake Sanders and Matt Johnson. In fact, Marcum and Johnson — the team’s starting double play combination in 2010 — are both entering their fourth season with the team, and Fanning (third base) and Logan (outfield) will play other positions when they’re not on the mound.
“We have a lot of pitching spots to fill, but everybody is trying to fill those spots,” Graham noted. “We always have a solid defense, and that gives ground-ball pitchers an opportunity to win a lot of games.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to be there at the end the last three years (Post 72 was state runner-up in 2009), and we want our players to all have college opportunities,” he said. “That’s our first goal, then we want to win and give these kids a chance to experience a different kind of baseball. The kids who have played for us have always wanted to come back. It’s been a good thing for the kids and the community.”
Graham said the Braves will play about 50 games again this summer and will travel to three tournament — the Justin Sullivan Memorial in Oklahoma City, the Brad Holt Memorial in Stillwater and the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational in Blue Springs, Mo.
Next weekend’s tryouts will begin at 2 p.m. with tests for speed and arm strength and defensive drills. There is a $20 fee to try out for the team.
“We’ll just try to get a feel for their defensive skills, then we’ll take batting practice,” Graham said. “We’ll follow up with calls to coaches around the area, then we’ll finalize the roster.”