By Dave Ricci
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — As coach Leslie Simon looks at his Kenmore East Bulldogs baseball team, along with seeing the hard work and dedication, what makes him smile most is knowing that he has a cast of true baseball players.
Kids who live and breath the game. Kids who want to win and bring another league title home.
“They’re all baseball players and they all played all summer,” Simon said during a recent practice. “I coached some of them in a travel league. It’s good to have good athletes, but these guys are all baseball players. ... That’s what I think is exciting. I think our core guys are very good. They’re good baseball players.”
Returning catcher Preston Smith, who had standout seasons in football and wrestling, agreed that the plus of this unit is the pure baseball skill.
“That definitely helps a lot,” Smith said. “It brings a lot of experience in too, knowing that guys have been playing virtually their whole lives. We’ve got a lot of talent and it’s going to be a good year.”
Though the Bulldogs have nine different arms ready to throw, Simon said that as of now they do not have that one true, dominant ace of the staff. Pointing to the 2011 Niagara Frontier League title-winning squad, Simon said that team was able to get the job done thanks to the depth and talent of several good pitches and sees no reason why this team can’t do the same.
Not relying on one specific guy as the No. 1 arm should be a plus for the Bulldogs, because not only will they be able to avoid overworking anyone, they won’t have to worry about mixing and matching pitchers against specific opponents.
“We feel that when we’re seeing teams’ second, third and fourth pitchers, I would think my guys would stack up very well with our second, third and fourth pitcher,” Simon explained. “I only have the frame of reference from two years ago when we had four or five guys who could throw. We didn’t have an ace and we had success. And I do think we have that this year because everyone of them got a lot of innings in last year.”
Leading the way for the Bulldogs this year will be John Mirabella (RF), Jeff White (P/2B), Zach Glaspy (P), Devon Taggert (P/3B) and shortstop Luke Simmons.
Simmons, according to coach Simon, brings the same pure baseball qualities to the team as former Bulldog standout Sam Cumbo.
“I see the talent out here every day,” Smith said. “And I believe that we can make a real good run at (NFL title) and the fact that we only have four seniors means we have a lot of young talent and we can be good for the next couple of years.”
Tyler Gibson and Conor Hoar also bolster the Bulldogs’ pitching staff.
“Hoar looks very good,” Simon said. “He throws very hard. I’m excited about him.”
Losing the bulk of their 2011 title team to graduation, the 2012 season was a challenge of fighting through injuries and normal growing pains. Simon said this year the focus is on more stability in the infield.
The Bulldogs are looking forward to their April 20 (12:30 p.m.) game against Hutch-Tech that will be played at Coca Cola Field.
As a Coaches vs. Cancer team, the Bulldogs will also be wearing pink caps, shirts, socks and necklaces during Monday games.
“Everyone’s loving that idea and coach Simon has done a great job with it,” Smith said. “He’s getting everybody into it and it’s going to turn out great.”
“The kids have bought into the cause and love the look,” said Simon.