Cooperstown's Doubleday Field.
By Matt Rodriguez (@VTMattyIce)
Cooperstown, New York, the baseball paradise for fans and players alike, will play host to the Utica Brewers and new manager Keith Strickland. Utica begins their campaign in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League for the first time tonight, kicking off the season on the highest of highs.
The Utica Brewers will come into Cooperstown eager to play in baseball’s capital and have set their standards high for their inaugural PGCBL season.
“If everybody’s working hard, if everybody’s improving, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames,” said Strickland, honored to be offered an opportunity to coach in the league. “It’s always nice to have someone recognize the work that you’ve done. It’s really exciting to have a chance to run a program and even more so to run a program with the reputation Utica has.”
Coming off a 35-14 season at Saint Leo University in Tampa, Florida as an assistant coach, Strickland plans on making the most of his opportunity with Utica. Having been over 20 years since he has visited the iconic baseball grounds of America.
Strickland hasn't visited Cooperstown in over 20 years, and he expressed his excitement for both he and his players to visit, most of whom are doing so for the first time.
“We’ve got guys from down in Florida all the way over to California and all points in between,” Strickland said. “Opening Night in Cooperstown is a very special thing.”
One of the guys to watch will be Dominican (N.Y.) College infielder, Oliver Christensen.
Christensen, who has been named to the All-CACC (Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference) Second Team twice and the 2013 Daktronics NCAA Division II Baseball All-East Region Second Team, looks to use his opportunity in the PGCBL this summer to keep improving.
“I would like to get a lot of work in at shortstop and third base,” Christensen said of his goals for the summer, intending to improve his footwork and arm strength by implementing a long toss program. “Offensively, I would like to see more pitches and work deeper into counts.”
Like his Head Coach and teammates, Christensen is excited to take the field in historic Cooperstown, a place he has never been to. He will finally get his chance to see why it’s so iconic.
“My dad’s always telling me I have to go visit, it’s such a great place,” Christensen said.
Among the players loading a potentially dangerous Utica roster is the young University of Iowa commit, Juan Carlos “JC” Pena. Pena, who just graduated from Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. a week ago, is excited to bring his style of play to the team.
“I always have positive energy so I’ll try and get everyone to enjoy the game,” Pena said.
Fresh out of high school, Pena is looking forward to the level of competition he’ll be seeing this summer before he heads to the University of Iowa. A participant of numerous Perfect Game showcase and tournament events, Pena has a chance at being selected in this year’s MLB Draft and brings excellent middle infield skills to Utica this summer. The enhanced level of competition shouldn’t be a problem for the fleet-footed Pena.
“I think it’s going to be a great season playing against Division I college players,” said Pena. “I’m excited. Playing for Utica this summer is going to make me a better player.”
The pieces are in place for a successful summer season in the team's debut to the PGCBL, and after a long week of practice and a scrimmage game in Massachusetts, Strickland’s team is ready to take the field.
“These guys are chomping at the bit to go play some ballgames.”