The Tri-City ValleyCats are the defending New York-Penn League champions.
But when a minor league organization like the NY-P has major roster changes with its teams every year, can the ValleyCats be truly considered the defending league champs?
Third baseman Adam Nelubowich thinks so.
The ValleyCats open defense of their NY-P title tonight at 7 when they host the Connecticut Tigers at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Nelubowich is one of five players returning from last year’s team, which beat State College in the league championship series. The others are pitchers Randall Fant, Kirshawn Holley, Chris Munnelly and Troy Scribner. Also back are manager Ed Romero and hitting coach Russ Steinhorn.
“I think we feel like it,” Nelubowich said at the team’s media day Wednesday. “We know what happened last year, and the guys who are new here know. We had a ring ceremony in Florida, where everybody got their rings. Word spreads pretty quick. Guys show off their rings. It gets guys excited. They know what to expect.”
Players were still coming into town on Thursday, so the roster wasn’t finalized when the team held its media day. The workout roster given to the media listed only two infielders — Nelubowich and first baseman Ariel Ovando.
“That’s the situation every single year,” Romero said. “Basically, we’re going to do the best we can, do the same program and make sure the guys that are coming in are ready to work hard every single day and see what happens. I think this group has a lot of talent, and we’ve got some good arms in the rotation. We’ve got some more power than we did last year.”
Nelubowich doesn’t expect any problems with the team jelling.
“The guys that came from Florida, we were in spring training and extended spring training for three months,” said Nelubowich, who batted .185 in 41 games last season. “We’ve done about as much jelling as you can do. But there’s going to be new guys. Like any team, guys have played on so many different baseball teams in their life that [coming together] happens so quick. We all have a common interest of baseball. You’re going to find out that you know guys that have played with them, and you’ve played with them. It happens quick.”
Romero said that Austin Chrismon will get the start on the mound tonight. Saturday’s starter will be Joe Musgrove, followed by Blaine Sims, Scribner and Francis Ramirez. . . .
The ValleyCats will unfurl their championship pennant prior to the game. SouthPaw, the team’s mascot, will enter the field with the trophy. NY-P president Bill Hayes will be on hand, and team owner Bill Gladstone will address the fans. . . .
The team will honor the NCAA hockey champion Union Dutchmen before Saturday’s 7 p.m. contest. . . .
Tonight is the start of a five-game homestand. After playing the Tigers for three games, the ValleyCats will host the Lowell Spinners on Monday and Tuesday. Monday’s game is 7 p.m., and Tuesday’s contest will start at 10 a.m.