WILLIAMSPORT — Opening day never gets old for Williamsport Crosscutters manager Pat Borders.
Borders, who’s entering his fifth year at the helm of the Crosscutters, can’t wait until his team takes the field against the State College Spikes in Friday night’s season opener.
“It never does (get old),” said Borders, a former catcher who enjoyed a 17-year career in the Major Leagues with, most notably, the Toronto Blue Jays, an organization in which he won a pair of World Series titles and was the series’ MVP in 1992.
“We had an extended spring and we’ve been down (in Florida) for 90 days, and no one understands it’s really hot and it’s kind of repetitive work,” added Borders. “Now, you get up here and get in front of the fans, and you get some of these kids who have never played under the lights and who have never played in front of more than 10 fans down there —and it’s going to be exciting to watch them and see how they react to the crowd, the noise and just the atmosphere.
“They are going to find out (Friday) against State College, and especially the Spikes’ crowd is a good crowd for (the players) to start off with as well.”
The Crosscutters had a disappointing season in 2018. They finished at the bottom of the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney Division with a record of 32-44 — 10 1/2 games behind division champ the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (42-33).
But on the eve of the 2019 season, Borders sees plenty of things to like about this year’s club.
“We have a lot of good, young talent on the field for position players, and the pitching is, as a group, probably as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Borders, who has seen his share of pitchers while playing for a total of nine teams during his career including the Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins.
Pitching will obviously be a strength for the Crosscutters this season, and a big reason for that is the age and experience of the team’s staff. Only two of the 17 pitchers on the roster are under 20, while the rest are between 21-24 years of age.
“As far as the pitchers, (their experience) probably has something to do with (their advanced play), but their arms are good and they are locating the ball really well,” said Borders. “This is kind of an impressive group as far as the pitching staff.
“They have good fastballs, and they are locating the fastballs, and the knowledge between them and the catchers — they have a plan and they’re not just throwing the ball forward and trying to throw strikes. They actually have an idea of what (pitch they want to throw) and why they want to (throw) it, and locating (their pitches) on top of that.”
The bulk of the catchers, infielders and outfielders on Williamsport’s roster are also over the age of 20, and their experience goes hand-in-hand with the pitchers’ to form what would seem to be a pretty competent group for the Crosscutters.
“The fielders, they are of similar age so they are on same page as the pitchers — some good, younger guys who are one year, at the most two years out of high school,” said Williamsport’s manager.
And as far as where the Crosscutter’s strengths lie this season, Borders thinks his team will be aggressive runners on the basepaths and be aggressive hitters at the plate.
But then again, only time will tell for sure with this year’s club.
“It’s a bunch of young guys in the field, so you don’t know how they’ll react to crowds and the next-level playing,” said Borders. “I assume they are going be a very aggressive team on the basepaths, and (us coaches) kind of have been preaching quite a bit about stealing bases and taking the extra base and putting pressure on the opposing defense.
“Offensively, they have been swinging the bats really well — you don’t know how that’s going to translate (at the Minor League level) — but they’ve been swinging good.”
Prior to the Crosscutters taking the field against the Spikes at 7:05 p.m., there will be a U.S. Army Enlistment Ceremony for local recruits as well as a special presentation by Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Connor.
Following the game there will be a fireworks show to delight the fans in attendance.
Stay tuned to The Standard-Journal for Cutters’ updates and game summaries throughout the summer.