By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- Isaac Garcia was expected to play third base for the Hays Larks this summer but a torn ligament in his wrist suffered in the spring season at Angelo State (Texas) University curtailed his year. Garcia rehabbed throughout the summer and often talked with Larks second baseman Jason Morriss, his teammate in junior college and at Angelo State.
"He has told me that the atmosphere is unbelievable," Garcia said of Hays. "It's every athlete's dream to come out and play in front of supporting fans, especially to get crowds like what we have been having."
Garcia, now healthy, joined the Larks last week and played three games at Larks Park in front of hundreds of fans and went 4-for-8 at the plate.
"It feels great to be back on the ball field," Garcia said Sunday. "I am blessed to be surrounded with a great group of guys. We are excited."
Garcia received another new experience when he played third base for Hays in the Larks' 9-2 win Wednesday against the Plaza Tire (Mo.) Cappahas in the first round of the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Garcia, who batted .386 before his injury this spring, continued his hot hitting Wednesday when he went 2-for-5 with a run scored. Rafael Valenzuela and Garcia, the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in the Hays lineup, combined to go 4-for-9 with a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored.
"I think (Garcia) will get better," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "The longer we stay in this, every at-bat is going to get him closer to being at the top of his game. We will see that, hopefully, as the tournament goes that he will start driving some balls, particularly the breaking pitch, the off-speed pitch, that is the pitch that you have to see a little more."
Goulder's arm key
A problem for the 2008 Larks was throwing out opposing baserunners. Hays' three catchers, Eric Roof, Joe Huwer and Rafael Neda, threw out eight of 72 runners trying to steal a base, just 11 percent. This summer, Ollie Goulder has helped dramatically improve that area.
"He is very good behind the plate," Leo said.
Goulder, who threw out 45 percent of runners this spring at Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College, has kept a high percentage this summer. Goulder, who threw out another runner Wednesday, has thrown out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal (10-for-25). His arm has helped Hays throw out 19 of 62 runners overall, good for 31 percent.
"When we talk about catching, we talk about a thing called pop the tag," Goulder said. "It's not how hard you throw it or how quick you transfer it. It's how fast you can do everything to get the ball there and have the guy put it down. I try to be accurate and as fast as I can."
Leo said Patrick Cooper, Hays' ace in 2008 and an All-Star this summer in the Cape Cod League, was scheduled to fly into Wichita today and join the Larks on Friday. ... All four Jayhawk League teams won their first-round games and will play in winners' bracket games Friday. Liberal beat the San Diego Waves 8-4, Derby won 6-2 over the Casa Grande (Ariz.) Cotton Kings, and El Dorado, the Jayhawk League champion, picked up a 9-6 victory versus the Katy (Texas) Collegians.