Larks kick off 'special summer' to celebrate 75th anniversary season
The Hays Larks are starting their 75th anniversary season with a bang.
Following Friday night's season opener against the Colorado Roughnecks at Larks Park, fans will be treated to a firework display to help kick off the milestone season.
"The 75th anniversary only happens once," said Frank Leo, who is entering his 40th season as Larks manager. "Our committee and board said, 'Let's do it right.'
"Let's start the season showing people that we're excited about the 75th anniversary and bring in some fireworks, and we do appreciate The Golden Q sponsoring those on Friday night and putting the show on for our people."
The Larks will be celebrating their tradition-rich history all summer long. Leo said this year's squad is taking pride in being the 75th anniversary team.
"It's a special summer, program history wise," Leo said. "I told our players in the recruiting process and when they got here: 'You guys are a special team. You're the 75th anniversary team. There's only one team that's going to be that team and it's you guys.'
"It's exciting. We put a lot of preparation into recruiting the ball club, plus getting ready for the 75th anniversary."
The anniversary festivities will be highlighted by the weekend of June 18. Leo said about 65 former Larks have already signed up to attend.
"We keep getting registrations every day," Leo said. "... It was fun getting the word out to them. I was able to correspond with several of them and catch up with them. That's going to be a fun weekend. I'm looking forward to it.
"There will be some guys that played for me back in the early days, '82, '83, back when I didn't have gray hair and the program was just kind of getting its feet on the ground. I'm excited for them to see what the program has grown to from their days of playing."
As for this year's squad, the Larks will have a veteran presence, with returners including infielder/pitcher Wyatt Divis (UT-Arlington), infielder Grant Lung (Sioux Falls), outfielder and France native Leo Jiminian (Clarendon College), pitcher Trevor Munsch and utility player Cameron Pehrson (Cochise Community College)
"That veteran presence is always good," Leo said. "(The new guys) come in here and don't really know what to expect. ... (The veterans) can help them get through it."
Other returners include Hays High products Palmer Hutchison (Kansas City Kansas Community College) and Trey Riggs (Dodge City Community College). Hutchison, an infielder, and Riggs, a pitcher, played for the Larks the entire summer last year. Fellow Hays High grad Brock Lummus, a catcher who plays at Butler Community College, will also play for the Larks this summer after playing in a handful of games for the team last summer.
"We've been fortunate lately to have some guys coming through (locally) that have the ability to play at this level and be contributors," Leo said.
Divis will be playing for the Larks for the fourth straight summer.
"He can do a lot of things for you," Leo said. "The big thing is Wyatt is a competitor and he understands the game. For these young guys, it's an opportunity to kind of sponge off him and learn the game and the little things that are going to make you that better college player."
Leo said he has a good feel for the returning Larks and will be looking forward to seeing his newcomers in action this weekend in the non-league three-game set against the Roughnecks. The games Friday, Saturday and Sunday all start at 7 p.m.
"The (new) guys, I'm kind of anxious to put a uniform on them this weekend. We'll take a good look at everybody and get everybody some good quality at-bats," Leo said.
The Larks will be competing in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League for the second season after winning the league title last year. The other five teams include the Roughriders, Colorado Sox, Denver Cougars, Fort Collins Foxes and Gameday Saints.
"I enjoy the RMBL," Leo said. "I like the level of competition it brings. We've played several of those teams in non-league in past years and now we're part of the league.
"I think it's a good fit for us. We enjoy going out to Colorado to play and we appreciate the teams making the trip in here to Hays."
Leo said he's heard from many fans who are eager to come back out to Larks Park after being hesitant last year because of COVID-19.
"I don't want to say COVID is in the rear-view mirror. We are making great progress with it. People are getting vaccinated, feeling comfortable," Leo said. "It's an outdoor event.
"I feel like the people want to come back out and they feel more comfortable coming back out this year."
Admission is free to all Larks' games.