05/13/2016 1:03 PM
The legendary Joe DiMaggio once said that Opening Day is like “a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”
The Texas AirHogs will be looking for that wonderful something when they kick off 2016 campaign next week in Grand Prairie with an exhibition game vs. the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks May 16th and when they officially open their regular season schedule May 19th in Kansas City vs. the TBones.
First-year skipper James Frisbie is excited about a talented roster that has already drawn attention from the MLB. Middle infielder Tanner Witt, who signed with the AirHogs in April, had his contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins on May 8th, and right-handed pitcher Tony Rizzotti, who signed in January, had his contract purchased by the White Sox on May 11th. The remaining roster remains formidable though, with a good mix of players with MiLB and independent league experience.
“I don’t even worry about win/loss record. It’s about improving every day,” said Frisbie, a native of Roseburg, Oregon and a graduate of Abilene Christian about to begin his 5th independent season as a manager in independent professional baseball.
Frisbie spent 2013-15 in the Frontier League managing the Rockford Aviators, helping them to a 4947 record and a wild card playoff berth last summer. His roster choices reflect his winning formula from his time in Rockford. Six former Aviators will open the 2016 season on the AirHogs roster. Among them will be CF Michael Hur and 1B Devon Rodriguez, each of whom accumulated over 100 hits in the Frontier last season.
The opening day pitching staff will be long on experience, especially in affiliated ball. Griffin Russell, Ryan Atwood, and Cody Hebner all finished last year as part of the Padres organization. Derek Callahan and Ethan Carnes each pitched in the Yankees system. Palmer Betts pitched for an affiliate of the Pirates, and Carlos Misell played for an affiliate of the Mariners.
Handling the pitching staff behind the plate will be a trio of offseason signees: veteran Juan C. Torres, who played in the Mets organization from 2006-2012, 2015 all-Missouri Valley Conference selection and Bradley University alum Drew Carlile, and former Dallas Baptist University standout and San Diego Padres draftee Michael Miller.
In the outfield, the team will no doubt benefit from the bats of Teo Martinez and Burt Reynolds, who should provide further reinforcement to a batting order that Frisbie describes as potentially “scary good.” Martinez started 2015 with Frisbie in Rockford before his contract was purchased by the Yankees. The 24-year-old would split time between the Yanks’ affiliates in the Gulf Coast and Florida State Leagues before signing this offseason. Like Martinez, Burt Reynolds spent 2015 in the MiLB, doing his work for 3 Mariners’ affiliates in Bakersfield, Clinton, and Jackson. The 27-year-old racked up 11 HR, 46 RBI and 114 total bases for his 3 clubs. He accumulated 5 assists, playing mostly the corner outfield positions, in 2015.
A particular challenge for the roster this season will be having one of the heaviest travel schedules in the American Association. The team is set to play 25 games in Grand Prairie, 25 games in Amarillo and 50 games on the road. Frisbie’s past experience managing the Bradenton Juice of the South Coast League should be beneficial in helping the team in this regard: playing almost exclusively on the road in 2007, Frisbie guided the Juice to a 47-42 record, playing just 4 games in a true “home” stadium.
With the support on the field from his coaching staff, which will include former Aviators hitting coach Jeff Brooks, former Tyler Wildcatter Lincoln “Juice” Gumbs, and 3rd-year AirHogs pitching coach/former Texas Rangers All-Star Jeff Russell, Frisbie expects high energy and strong effort from a roster that he calls “a classy group of guys.”
“We’re young in some areas, we’re veteran in some areas,” he said. “My expectation is that we’ll compete.”