By CONOR NICHOLL
The Hays Larks will add several players for the final week of the regular season and the National Baseball Congress World Series that starts Sunday in Wichita. That includes hitting coach and former Lark Doug Dreher and Rafael Valenzuela, one of Hays' best players who left the team two weeks ago for a wedding in Mexico and was considered doubtful to return.
Valenzuela, a third baseman, contacted Larks manager Frank Leo on Monday morning and said he would arrive at 1:30 p.m. today and can play in tonight's league contest versus Dodge City at Larks Park.
"He has been out for 10 days, 12 days there, and hopefully he can pick it back up pretty quick," Leo said. "We have some games here that will get him some at-bats in and get him ready for the NBC."
Third baseman-outfielder Isaac Garcia also is expected to arrive today. Garcia is an Angelo State (Texas) University product who suffered an injury in the spring and couldn't play earlier this summer. Hays might also add pitcher Devyn Rivera from Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College, Wichita State University pitcher Jordan Cooper and Patrick Cooper, last year's Larks ace who excelled as a closer in the Cape Cod League this summer.
The Larks have lost several players in the past few weeks, including outfielder-first baseman Greg Bieker and third baseman Josh Garcia. Valenzuela carried a .389 average, third-best on the team, and paced the Larks with a .556 slugging percentage. His three homers are tied for the team's best among players currently on the roster. Valenzuela, though, unexpectedly had to leave for a wedding in Mexico after a July 12 contest versus Colorado. At the time, Leo, who didn't know about the wedding until a week before Valenzuela's departure, called the University of Arizona product's return "doubtful."
On Monday, though, Leo received good news when Valenzuela contacted the manager. Valenzuela, a former Kansas City Royals draft pick, started 18 games before leaving.
"I just couldn't read him," Leo said after a 6-5 victory against the Alaska Goldpanners on Monday night. "He said, 'Yeah, coach, I'll be back.' The thing I couldn't get out of him was what the time frame was. Maybe he didn't know the time frame, I think.
"They were in Mexico, and there was some family that they hadn't seen for a long time and wound up extending their stay, and to me, family is always important. I tell my high school kids that, I tell my guys in the summertime, family is important. You make a commitment to baseball, you have try to live up to that commitment, too, but some family things get in the way, you have to do that," Leo added.
Dreher, a former University of Kansas and independent league player, is still eligible to play in non-league games and the NBC World Series. He went 5-for-7 in June for Hays and finished 1-for-4 with an RBI single versus Alaska on Monday.
"That is better pitching than the first time I played this summer," Dreher said. "It takes a little time. I am not a young buck anymore. Yeah, it feels good to be back out there and playing. He is just going to activate me because we are thin on players, to pinch-hit and stuff.
"I know it is not as easy to get out of bed the next morning (after playing)," he said with a smile.
Isaac Garcia was expected to play for Hays and signed a contract with the Larks last fall. He batted .386 with 38 RBIs for 45-20 Angelo State, but tore ligaments in his thumb and had to spend the summer rehabbing.
"He was a very good hitter for them, their cleanup hitter," Leo said. "He can steal, he can play outfield, third base. His rehab went good and he is ready to go. He has been taking BP. We will get him some at-bats this week and see how that looks."
Rivera was another possible Larks pickup at the start of the summer. Rivera was Chandler-Gilbert's ace after he posted a 4-5 record and 3.98 earned-run average. He can hit 92 to 94 miles per hour with his fastball and was expected to be selected in June's Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. However, he was not picked up and has worked out in Arizona. Patrick Cooper, another likely possibility for the NBC, was Hays' workhorse in 2008, compiling an 8-3 record and 2.76 ERA. Cooper did not allow a homer in 751βΡ3 innings and was named the Jayhawk League's No. 1 prospect by Baseball America magazine.
This spring, he pitched for Iowa's West Des Moines Community College after he transferred from Eastern Kentucky University and posted another terrific season. Cooper went 8-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 721βΡ3 innings with a sterling 106βΡ24 strikeout to walk rate for a team that finished 55-11 and went to the NJCAA College World Series.
Cooper was picked in the 36th round (pick No. 1026) by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He headed to the Cape Cod League, and was used as a reliever for the Falmouth Commodores. Cooper made the league's all-star game (played at Fenway Park) after he posted a 2-1 record and 0.81 ERA in 14 games. Jordan Cooper had a 1.67 ERA in five starts for Falmouth.
"He's (Patrick) been incredible," said Commodores GM Dan Dunn said on Falmouth's official site. "If we could have a guy like him pitch every day, we would."
Ben Turner has struggled throughout the summer (.176 average), but posted a strong game Monday night as the Larks' catcher. Turner, a University of Missouri product, finished hit a double, walked and scored a run. He was robbed of another hit by a diving catch from center fielder Mykal Stokes.
"I thought Ben swung it pretty good; that is the best I have seen him put at-bats back-to-back-to-back," Leo said. "He has always done a good job of receiving back there. He has to get a little bit quicker on his release."
Alaska has traveled through multiple states on its barnstorming tour and manager Jim Dietz called the road schedule "great for the players if they can learn from it." The Goldpanners, who had a videographer and broadcaster on the trip, will play two exhibition games at the NBC, including the tournament opener against Liberal, but will not play in the tournament. ... Alaska played for two weeks, then took 10 days off, then split into two teams, a club that stayed in Fairbanks and another one traveled. General manager Don Dennis on the tour: "This one might be the granddaddy. In 1975, we barnstormed to Pueblo, Colorado, played a tournament there, then we came to Liberal, then we went to Wichita, finished second in the national tournament, drove to Denver, flew to Seattle and played 14 more games, ending in Canada on Labor Day. That was the previous biggest one."