By BOB FORREST
ADA — Coaches with successful programs are fond of saying they’re going to “reload” rather than “rebuild” after losing a group of key players. But Ada Legion Post 72 baseball coach Travis Graham is going to need some heavy artillery to replace what he lost off a 2009 squad that won 44 of 55 games and was state runner-up.
With that in mind, Graham and his staff will have an open-door policy for next Sunday’s (April 25) tryouts for the 2010 Braves at East Central University.
“We’re open all over,” Graham noted. “We had quite a few returners last year; this year, no positions are locked up. We have a chance to have a few pitchers back who were with us last year, but this will be a different type of team with a lot of new faces.
“I think we’ll have the same type of quality we put out the last couple of years, though,” he added. “If you’re going to rebuild a team, this is the best area to do it. This area traditionally has good talent year after year, so I am very confident we’ll be fine. I look for us to be one of the best teams in the state again this year.”
Graham, who revived Legion baseball in the Ada area in 2008 and has taken two straight teams to the state tournament, will have to find replacements for the top six hitters in his lineup from 2009 — center fielder Robert Thomas, left fielder Jeremy Stein, catcher Riley Keith, shortstop Randy McCurry, first baseman Matt Mayes and third baseman Jon Ervin — and for four of his top pitchers — McCurry, Ervin, Chad Woods and Dillon Phillips. In addition, two of the Braves’ top reserves, former Stonewall stars J.P. Maples and Jake Williams, have also exceeded the age limit for Legion baseball.
On the plus side, Graham expects to welcome back three pitchers who are — or were — the aces of their high school staffs in Chandler’s Jon Gray, Ada’s Tyler Carter and Coalgate’s David Cagle, and three members of his everyday lineup — infielders Matt Johson from Asher, Hunter Marcum from Purcell and Tyler Porter, who is currently playing at USAO in Chickasha.
“These will be the same type of tryouts we’ve done the last two years,” Graham explained. “The guys who show up should be prepared for a workout. We want to get a feel for how coachable they are and how they take to competition, as well as their ability.”
The 2010 Braves will play the majority of their home games at ECU, after calling the Ada High baseball complex home the past two summers.
“We will play a lot of games at ECU, but we would like to set up some dates at some of the area high schools so we can have some night games,” Graham said. “We’ll play quite a few road games this year, and we’ll have a tougher schedule.
“We’ll play 45 to 50 games, and we’ve added some new teams this year (including Stillwater, Ardmore and Texarkana, Texas, the winner of Ada’s regional tournament),” he added. “We should get some exposure by playing a lot of different teams. It won’t really be a true Legion schedule...we’ll play everybody.”
Competition for area talent has become intense in recent years, but Graham said Legion baseball is something special.
“With Legion ball, you have a chance to represent your area and and play with and against guys you see all year,” he said. “Between the start of the season and the end, we’ll only have seven days off. We’re going to play a lot of baseball.”
Graham said he hopes players from the Durant area will attend his tryout. The Larry Dyson Motors team from Durant is not expected field a team this summer.
Tryouts will begin at 2 p.m., and cost to try out is $20 per player.