The 2020 version of the Hays Larks will feature several familiar faces to baseball fans in the Hays community.
The Larks return six players who saw significant action for the team last summer. Five current Fort Hays State players are also set to play, while four players on the roster are local products — Palmer Hutchison (Hays High), Cole Zimmerman (TMP-Marian), Trey Riggs (Hays High) and Ryan Ruder (TMP-Marian).
The Larks open the season against the Colorado Springs Outlaws at 7 p.m. Monday at Larks Park.
"We have some guys we’re familiar with," longtime Larks manager Frank Leo said. "The Fort Hays players we got to see this spring. We got a little bit of a handle on those guys. Then there’s guys that we had come back like Ryan Ruder, Max McGuire, Wyatt Divis, Matt Cavanagh.
"And then Trey Riggs and Palmer Hutchison, a couple high school kids of mine (at Hays High). So I’ve got a handle on those guys.
"The new guys, with their short spring season, they got some stats I can take a look at to see how they did, but not a really true reading. So that’s going to be kind of a work in progress to see how they all fit into place."
Leo said the roster was pretty much put together by January, so the pandemic didn’t have too much of an impact on assembling the team.
Divis will be the elder statesmen of the team, entering his third summer in Hays. Divis, a pitcher/infielder at Texas-Arlington, batted .344 with four homers and 45 RBIs in the regular season last summer, while going 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA on the mound.
"He’s a two-way guy for us, so he’s like having two players — two elite players," Leo said. "Very good pitcher, very good hitter. He brings a lot of things to the table. He’s a competitor. When Wyatt crosses the white line, he doesn’t want to lose. That kind of competitiveness will work its way down our roster."
The Larks also have a fair share of underclassmen, including Hutchison (Kansas City Community College) and Riggs (Dodge City Community College). They saw their freshman seasons in college end abruptly by the pandemic.
"We do have a lot of freshmen on the roster," Leo said. "They got their feet wet in college baseball. They got a fall session in, so that was good for them and they got a partial spring in. The (summer) will be key for those guys; I think it’s going to be key for every one of them.
"Every year in college you want to make improvements, you want to see your game get better. With a shortened spring season, those guys really didn’t have a chance to do that."
One of the big concerns is getting everyone back in playing shape after a three-month hiatus.
"I think this summer guys are anxious to get back on the field and work on their game," Leo said. "But they’re not entering back on the field the same state that they would have been on a regular summer. They’ve been inactive, so to speak, for three months. Yes, maybe taking some BP and throwing, but nothing like being out on the field for two and a half hours and going through the grind of a game.
"So those will be adjustments we’re going to have to make early on, particularly on the pitching staff."
The players reported to town mid-week and held their first practice Thursday.
"I know visiting with them prior to their arrival in Hays, they were all very anxious, now that it’s actually happening, to get back on the field," Leo said. "They know they need to get some work in before we play on Monday and they’re working hard on doing that."
This season will mark a new era for the Larks as they join the Rocky Mountain Baseball League. Monday and Tuesday night’s games against the Outlaws will go down as nonleague games. The Larks will play their first official league game on Friday against the Colorado Pirates to start a three-game set at Larks Park.
"I feel good about it," Leo said of the RMBL."There are some traditional teams in that league that we’ve played before in non-league games, like the Denver Cougars, the Colorado Sox, the Boulder Collegians. Now, their rosters may not be as formidable as they have in the past because of the COVID situation, hesitant to bring many players in from the outside area.
"But I think in the long run, their competition will challenge us. There are some other competitive teams in that league. I feel day-in and day-out, our guys will be challenged."
Plans are underway to hold the NBC World Series in Wichita but dates have not been officially finalized.
Leo’s happy with the roster heading into the summer but noted the Larks can ill-afford injuries.
"We’ve got 12 position players, and two of those are catchers," Leo said. "We’ve got to keep everybody healthy. We talked about it (Thursday) at practice. We’ve got to stretch, we’ve got to get our conditioning done. We can’t afford to lose anybody to injury, and we’ve got to be smart about COVID and do all the right things."
After the Larks’ season was in limbo a couple months ago, Leo said he can sense an excitement in the community for Monday night’s debut.
"I’m excited about Monday night," Leo said. "We’re going to give the community something, and if people don’t feel comfortable coming out to a crowd, they need to (not come out). It’s going to be interesting to see what we draw for game one. I know there’s a lot of excitement in the community and a lot of excitement amongst our players."
15 Colorado Springs, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 16 Colorado Springs, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 19 Colorado Pirates, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 20 Colorado Pirates, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 21 Colorado Pirates, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 22 GameDay Saints, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 23 GameDay Saints, 7 p.m. Larks Park; 25 Denver Cougars, 7 p.m. Larks Park; 26 Denver Cougars, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 27 Colorado Springs Outlaws, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 28 Colorado Springs Outlaws, 7 p.m. Larks Park.
1 at Roughriders, 4:30 p.m. (MT); 2 at Colorado Sox, 4:30 p.m. (MT); 3 at Colorado Sox; 4:30 p.m (MT); 4 at Colorado Pirates, 1 p.m. (MT); 5 at Boulder Collegians 6 p.m. (MT); 8 Boulder Collegians, at Larks Park; 9 Boulder Collegians, 7 p.m., at Larks Park; 10 Boulder Collegians, 7 p.m. at Larks Park; 11 Colorado Sox, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 12 Colorado Sox 7 p.m. Larks Park; 14 NoCo Roughnecks 7 p.m., Larks Park; 15 NoCo Roughnecks, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 16 at GameDay Saints, 7 p.m. (MT); 17 at GameDay Saints, 7 p.m. (MT); 18 at Colorado Springs Outlaws, 5 p.m. MT; 19 at Colorado Springs Outlaws 5 p.m. (MT), 21 Colorado Roughriders, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 22 Colorado Roughriders, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 23 Colorado Roughriders, 7 p.m. Larks Park; 24 Denver Cougars, 7 p.m., Larks Park; 25 Denver Cougars, 7 p.m. Larks Park; 26 Denver Cougars, 6 p.m., Larks Park.
Name, position, school, hometown
Grant Lung, INF, Sioux Falls University, jr., Peoria, Ariz; Matt Cavanagh, INF, UT-Arlington, so., Keller, Texas; Palmer Hutchison, INF, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Hays; Ryan Ruder, LHP, Fort Hays State, Hays; Trey Riggs, RHP, Dodge City, Hays; Cole Zimmerman, LHP, Fort Hays State, Hays; Leo Jiminian, OF, Clarendon College, Saint-Lo, France; Jacob Ensz, LHP, FHSU, Wichita; Drew Buhr, RHP/INF, St. Louis, Austin, Ind.; Treyjen Meza, RHP, Cochise Community College, Tuscon, Ariz; Max McGuire, C, Doane College, Lincoln, Neb.; Wyatt Divis, RHP/OF, UT-Arlington, Lincoln, Neb.; Cam Pehrson, Cochise College, Gilbert, Ariz.; Sean Cooper, OF, Cochise College, Peoria, Ariz; Rustin Hays, RHP, undecided, Hector, Ariz.; Marco Ozuna, RHP, Cochise College, Case Grande, Ariz; Zach Firmature, RHP, Hutchinson Community College, Omaha, Neb.; Jaylen Williams, OF, McLennan Community College, Round Rock, Texas; Paddy Walsh, RHP, Fort Hays State, Aurora, Colo.; Garret Egli, RHP, Sam Houston State, San Antonio, Texas; Jake Werth, C, Cisco Community College, Austin, Texas; Landon Shirer, RHP, George Fox/Angelo State, La Mesa, Calif.; Corbin Truslow, 1B, FHSU, Georgetown, Texas; Brady Rose, McLennan CC, Westminster, Colo.