ValleyCats getting a fresh start

After finishing last in the Stedler Division last season with a 27-47 record, the worst in the NY-P,

There is a pattern developing with the Tri-City ValleyCats over the last few seasons.

Beginning in 2004, the ’Cats won the Stedler Division title and reached the New York-Penn League final in even-numbered years (2004 and 2006), and struggled in the odd-numbered years (2005 and 2007).

After finishing last in the Stedler last season with a 27-47 record, the worst in the NY-P, ’Cats manager Pete Rancont is hoping that 2008 brings with it an outstanding season for the Houston Astros’ affiliate.

Rancont returns for his second year as the ’Cats’ manager. Tri-City opens its seventh season tonight at 7:05 when it opens a three-game

series on the road against the Lowell Spinners. The ’Cats make their Joseph L. Bruno Stadium debut Friday against the Oneonta Tigers at 7 p.m.

“This team is just like those teams,” Rancont said Monday at the team’s media day at Bruno

Stadium. “I’m sure they didn’t know exactly what they had with three or four days to practice, and a clubhouse full of strangers. But they had good drafts, and they played well and they had talent. We’re just

going to have to line up, and see what we have. Hopefully, we’re going to have it, as well.”

Last season was a tough one for Rancont and the ’Cats.

“We lost quite a few games,” Rancont said. “Our organization is not used to doing that. But I learned that you have to have the talent in this league. Last year, we may have been short one or two players that would have allowed us to be a little bit more competitive than we were.”

There are some high draft picks, who were selected two weeks ago, joining the ’Cats.

Two of them are from the

University of Arizona. Thomas Steele was picked in the fourth round. He hit .315 with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 56 games this season. Three rounds later, teammate Jon­athan Gaston was picked. He had a .312 average with 13 homers and 49 RBI.

Jack Shuck, a sixth-round

selection out of Ohio State, hit .356 and drove in 23 runs in 48 games. and will provide speed. He led the Buckeyes with 22 stolen bases, and was caught just four times.

Infielder Jeff Hulett was selected in the 12th round out of Okaloosa Walton Community College. He led his team with a .397 average, 15 doubles and 56 RBI in 46 games. He was second on the team in homers (nine) and stolen bases (20).

“Our hopes this year are that our draft was much better, and that we do have the players to not only compete in this league, but to excel in this league,” Rancont said. “Hopefully, we’re going to see what we have, and find out that we are going to be successful.”

The starting rotation is set, and looks a little unusual, as four of the five starters are left-handed.

The only right-hander, Robert Bono, will get the start tonight against the Spinners. Bono was

0-4 with a 7.34 ERA in 11 games with the Greeneville Astros, Houston’s rookie-class Appalachian League affiliate, last season.

“We had a pitching meeting this morning,” Bono said. “I walked in and said, ‘I’m the only right-handed starter.’ That’s the way it happens.”

Bono, who is from Waterford, Conn., is excited to get the start.

“Lowell will have a lot of fans there,” Bono said. “I’m from the area, so I should have family there. I’m just ready to get the season off in the right way.”

The lefty starters are 6-foot-9 David Duncan (a fifth-round pick from Georgia Tech), who will start Wednesday; Antonio Noguera (2-5 4.15 ERA at Greeneville last year) starts Thursday; Jarred Holloway (a 10th-round pick from St. Petersburg Junior College), goes in Friday’s home opener; and Shane Wolf (a 26th-round pick from Ithaca College) starts Saturday at Oneonta.

The ’Cats will play nine of their first 12 games on the road.

“That concerns you a little bit,” Rancont said. “When you have new players, they really don’t have a home yet. They’ll only have three practices at this field under their belt. When they go to Lowell, I don’t know if it will seem like a road game to them at all.”

ticket information

Tickets purchased in advance cost $9 for premium box seats,

$7 for reserved box seats and

$5 for grandstand. Purchasing those tickets on game days will cost

$1 more. Berm seating tickets are $6, and only available on game days.

To purchase tickets, call

629-CATS, visit the Bruno Stadium box office or go online to

Categories: Sports

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