By CONOR NICHOLL
As usual, the 2013 Hays Larks features several players, especially in the field, who are making a return trip to Hays. However, this summer's squad is a little different because multiple Larks are back for a third or fourth summer.
"They have to convince their coaches to come back," manager Frank Leo said. "I know a lot of coaches like to send kids different places. I always tell our players after they finish here, you had a good experience, you enjoy Hays, we would like to have you back."
Junior outfielders Mackenzie Handel and Aaron Cornell, a former Jayhawk League Player of the Year, and pitcher Nick Goza have returned for a third year. Shortstop Elvin Rodriguez is back for a fourth summer, but he might not play long depending on the outcome of Major League Baseball's June First-Year Player Draft. Rodriguez earned conference player of the year and helped Northwood (Texas) reach the NAIA World Series.
Oklahoma State's Randy McCurry, a pitcher/shortstop, could also have a short time in Hays depending on the draft.
"(Elvin) loves Hays," Leo said. "He said, 'I am just going to come back and hang out, coach. Use me as you need. If I don't get drafted, I will do whatever you need me to do this summer.' "
Hays, which won the Jayhawk League last summer for the first time since 2008 and finished third in National Baseball Congress World Series, opens the season Saturday with a doubleheader against the Colorado Sox at Larks Park. Start time is 6 p.m.
"I am just anxious to see them all," Leo said. "The roster has turned over quite a bit here in the last week due to injury. We got some late additions, and I feel very comfortable in the late additions we got. It wasn't something that we rushed into. We talked to some coaches about some guys that they had talked about earlier, and some of those guys were still available."
Leo is expected to team-pitch the contests and use a staff that features seven freshmen. The position players have just one freshman. Goza is the lone returning pitcher. He has pitched in 15 games combined the last two summers.
"They are young, fresh arms," Leo said. "It seems like anymore coaches are very hesitant to send out their juniors who have logged some innings."
At first, the Larks weren't expected to have Cornell this summer, but Leo said "some things transpired" after Christmas and Cornell returns for this third summer in center field after he batted .316 with 14 doubles last year. Handel (.280 average) wanted to return to Hays.
"They talked to (Handel) about going some place else, but he said, 'I want to go back to Hays,' and they let him come back," Leo said. "It's depending on what coaches want to do. A lot of the junior college coaches will leave it up to the players."
As well, second baseman Zair Koeiman, who has committed to Wichita State University for next year, checked with the Shockers about coming back. WSU agreed and Koeiman returned for a second summer. Catcher Brett Lang is also returning. He was arguably the season's biggest surprise last year after he batted .312 in his first season of college baseball -- spring or summer.
Lang sat out about two weeks with a quad injury, and then caught all five conference tournament games for University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and then retweaked the injury. Leo said Lang will miss a minimum of two weeks.
"I thought he progressed rather nicely throughout the summer, catching skills improved, hitting improved," Leo said. "He is a guy we wanted back behind the plate."
Junior outfielder Desmond Roberts, a Garden City Community College transfer, was supposed to play for UNC-Charlotte this spring, but was academically ineligible.
"He was going to be a force for them, a kid they were counting on in the middle of their lineup," Leo said. "He could be an interesting guy for us."
Infielder Jake Platczek, from University of Nebraska, could be a key player. Outfielder Clayton Garland is the lone Fort Hays State University pickup. The lineup could have four or five left-handers.
"I feel real good about where we are at with the older guys and the younger guys," Leo said.