The long, winding road that was the Wyoming Legion Baseball preseason has culminated in this: The Evanston Outlaws AA squad will open the 2020 season at the Gillette Spring Classic this weekend, with games scheduled against a handful of the top AA programs in the state.
“We get to go play some ball, finally,” said Evanston head coach Chad Thompson. “There’s a little bit of nerves — I don’t know as a coach if you ever think your team is ready at the beginning of the season, but we’re going to hit the road and give it a go. It’s a good test to see where we’re at, right off the bat.”
The Outlaws were scheduled to open the tournament Saturday morning against Jackson, but the boys from Teton County dropped out earlier this week. Evanston will now head to Gillette a day early to take on the host team Friday night at 7 p.m.
“With Jackson dropping out, Gillette called and asked if we could come up Friday and play,” Thompson said. “We said ‘Sure, of course! We’d be happy to.’”
Evanston will also square off against teams from Sheridan and Casper, as well as Cheyenne Post 6 — the only team at the Spring Classic with an actual game under its belt. With teams given the green light to begin play on Wednesday, Cheyenne Post 6 took advantage, with an 11-0 drubbing of the AA defending state champion Casper Oilers.
With teams statewide unable to practice the last two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson said it’s difficult to get a scouting report on the opposition. Teams are starting their seasons at the same time, a rarity in Wyoming baseball — especially for teams from larger communities.
“A lot of the teams already have 30 games in already by this time,” he said. “That’s definitely different, for sure.”
The Outlaws have been practicing since May 4, though Thompson said the team is still “pretty green.”
“They’re starting to come together,” he said. “We’re getting a pitching rotation down — that will be one of the biggest things heading into the weekend. We’re gonna take 18 kids with us — 14, plus four from the B team — just because that’s what we can take. With the possibility of five games, we had to add some extra arms this early in the season. I don’t know if they’ll see the field, but they need to be ready if they do. And it’s a good experience for them to get up there and see what the next level is. I would imagine they’ll see the field at some point.”
With just a couple of weeks of practice under their belts heading into the truncated season, Thompson said Outlaws pitchers will be held to a fairly strict pitch count this weekend as their arms get into game shape.
“We’re looking at trying to hold everyone at around 30-40 pitches — that’s the plan, though plans rarely work out that way,” he explained. “That early in the season, we want to make sure we’re careful. We’ll probably have kids that are pitching multiple games, but we’ll keep them at that per game level — see what we come up with for the final day.”
Thompson has some talented veteran pitchers to choose from, including Ryan Fisher, Reid Gross and Jagger Mitchell.
“Ryan Fisher is coming back from playing in college, so his arm will probably be the strongest,” Thompson said. “I’d roll in Reid Gross and Jagger Mitchell as being the most ready to play. Brendan Thompson is in there, and Gus Allred — a kid from the valley — he’s in there and doing well.”
For his part, Mitchell — a catcher and middle infielder when he’s not on the mound — said he’s excited at the prospect of finally playing ball. A member of the Red Devils basketball team, the soon-to-be senior missed out on this year’s state hoops tournament — as well as the outdoor track season — due to the pandemic.
“Baseball is my favorite sport, and the fact that I still get to play it in these difficult times gives a little light to the whole situation,” he said. “We’re looking scrappy. I think we’ll be all right this weekend — we’ll compete well.”
Fellow pitcher Allred agreed.
“I think we’re going to do good [this weekend],” Allred said. “I think we’re starting to come together. It was pretty hard having to come back after that quarantine, because we were looking really good in February. But I think we’re getting back into it. It’s always fun to play teams we don’t usually play. Honestly, I’m just excited to get back to playing — win or lose.”
As for how his team looks at the plate, Thompson said he’s encouraged by how the bats looked Tuesday during a scrimmage against the Evanston B squad.
“The bats on Tuesday looked a lot better than they did on Monday,” he said, laughing. “It puts a smile on your face when there’s improvement, for sure. We have three fulltime left-handed bats this season, and three left-handed pitchers. That’s an unusual thing for us.”
Thompson went on to say he’s keeping his expectations realistic for this weekend’s tournament, though he thinks the Outlaws will be competitive.
“We’re going up there to play ball and win ball games,” he said. “But we’re also gonna be putting some kids in some situations and seeing how they perform, so we have a better idea of what we have and what we don’t have moving forward.”