Tyler Junior College sported a new classic jersey Monday when Apache players and coaches took pictures and answered questions at its annual Apache Baseball Media Day at Mike Carter Field.
TJC now hopes to turn back the clock a little bit. The Apaches were national champions in 2007 and pitcher Jackie Black summed up this year’s aspirations in one word — dogpile.
“That is our motto this season,” said Black, a sophomore from Amarillo. “I have a good feeling about this team and I see us getting that chance to dogpile on our own mound (in celebration of winning another national championship).”
The team that did “dogpile” on TJC’s mound last year was rival Eastfield Community College. It’s an image that stayed with TJC coach Doug Wren and his players.
“It left a bad taste in our mouth. We felt like we had the best team in the country and you have to tip their hats to Eastfield, they played well at the right time,” Wren said of Eastfield eliminating TJC in the District C Tournament. “We are looking forward to this year. It’s a new team with a lot of new faces … I’ve got two guys in the lineup who were in the lineup last year. The talent is there; it’s going to be important for us to find (the right) mix.”
Black posted the lowest earned run average on a staff that led the nation in ERA last season. The lefty’s miniscule 0.53 ERA was a school record that included 24 strikeouts and no extra-base hits in his 22 appearances.
Black is one of three Apache players who participated last fall in the Fuddruckers Junior College All-Star Weekend. Also in Waco with him were fellow sophomore pitcher Payton Smith (Whitehouse) and sophomore catcher Trevor Clifton (Cypress).
Smith returns after going 4-1 last year with a 1.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts with only one extra-base hit allowed in 17 appearances.
But the rest of the staff is made up of virtual newcomers.
“We did some numbers and we pitched almost 400 innings last year and we are only bringing about 80 of those (innings) back. Everyone else graduated, so that’s going to be a key,” Wren said. “There are three or four guys who were on the staff who know the expectations and were part of the best pitching staff in the country at our level and the expectations are the same.”
On offense, TJC sophomores Clifton and Ron Reemts batted .294 and .276, respectively last season. Reemts is the team’s top returning run producer as the sophomore from Klein Collins High School scored 42 runs and drove in 20.
Clifton said the new players displayed their prowess in the fall, and now is their chance to do it for real.
“We know what it takes and we still keep a chip on our shoulder from last year,” Clifton said. “We keep the Fall (Season) as close to game-like as we can, so it gives you a little taste of what playing in the (regular) season is going to be like for them.”
TJC begins its 2012 campaign Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at noon at Dallas Christian. The Apaches home opener is Monday, Jan. 30 against Texarkana at 3 p.m. at Mike Carter Field.
Mike Carter will be the site once again for the NJCAA Division III World Series, beginning May 19.