Their classification level says they’re the senior team, but the American Legion Manhattan Manko Senior 17ers roster will be comprised with a lot of youth this season.
“We’re going to be young,” said Senior coach Luke Snyder. “We don’t have a whole lot of experience. But with the format that we play during the summers with tournaments every weekend, the (guys) will fall right into place.”
The maturation process will begin on Thursday, when Manko opens its season with the Tournament of Champions in Manhattan. The 17ers, who won the Tournament of Champions last year, will play the Hays Eagles at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Tointon Family Stadium. They will proceed to play two games on Friday and then one on Saturday. The top four squads from the senior field, which is made up of seven teams, will advance to the championship bracket on Sunday.
“We have a few new teams in (the tournament) this year and we have some teams we’ve seen in the past,” said Snyder, who is in his eighth season as a coach with the Legion. “It will be some quality baseball being played early in the year but you never know what quite to expect. We plan on being prepared and ready to go.”
For guys like Tyler Holen and Josh Mullin, who played in last weekend’s Class 6A state baseball tournament for Manhattan High, it’s been a quick turnaround. While there wasn’t really a break from the high school season to Legion ball, it also means there isn’t much rust to shake off. And that’s not a bad thing.
“I think we’re past the state tournament now,” Snyder said. “The outcome wasn’t what we were hoping for. We were hoping to get to that championship game and get a little deeper in the tournament and it didn’t work out that way. But I think our guys are ready for a new start. We have a few new faces. We have some JV guys with us. So we just have to form our own identity as soon as we can.”
The 17ers will rely heavily on veteran pitcher Spencer Anderson, who missed last season due to injury, to help hold down the pitching staff.
“The summer before (last) he was one of the key pieces of our pitching staff that allowed us to get deep into the summer and win the state tournament in 2010,” Snyder said. “Other than him we have some young arms, some 16-year-olds who have shown they are competitors on the mound.
“We’re not necessarily deep at pitching but we have some guys who will compete and give us quality innings.”
Offensively, Manko will feature a lineup with several left-handed hitters.
“We have some speed and some guys who like to attack the baseball,” Snyder said. “We’ll find out what kind of situational hitters we have come Thursday.”
While the 17ers won’t be seasoned with loads of experience, the goal by the end of this summer is that they’ve matured as baseball players. And they hope that growing process results in a Legion state championship.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” Holen said. “We have a lot of young guys but they need to get used to playing on an upper level against better guys that we haven’t faced before and get them ready for the next couple years at Manhattan High.”