No more Mr. Caretaker

Gavilan College baseball coach Neal Andrade paints the batter’s

Morgan Hill
– They may be young but they’re his. After guiding a team made
up largely of inherited players last season, second-year Gavilan
College baseball coach Neal Andrade has a roster stocked with his
own recruits this season. And, he’s tickled to have the opportunity
to mold his new players in his own i
mage.
Morgan Hill – They may be young but they’re his. After guiding a team made up largely of inherited players last season, second-year Gavilan College baseball coach Neal Andrade has a roster stocked with his own recruits this season. And, he’s tickled to have the opportunity to mold his new players in his own image.

“We have a new look,” Andrade said. “And, that’s good because we were short-handed last year and struggled. What’s good about having all the new guys is, last year it was kind of like here we go again – they were used to losing, but these guys don’t have that mind-set. These guys want to learn. They want to get better. They want to win.”

Gavilan (3-5 overall) opened its Coast Conference season with a 4-3 loss to Chabot on Thursday.

Last year, Andrade was hired after school had already started, basically too late to do any meaningful recruiting. As a result, he ended up with a short roster of just 22 players. And, Andrade said that was partly to blame for last season’s struggles, which saw the team lose its first 12 games of the season and finish 4-30 overall.

This season, the Rams feature a bulging roster of 35 players, many of whom are straight out of high school but several who transferred to Gavilan to play for Andrade.

Just eight players return from last year’s squad, and five of those saw any significant action. Of those, only centerfielder BJ Collom and left-handed starting pitcher Todd Gimenez were mainstays.

Both returners said they’re excited about the direction the team is going.

“We’re already starting off better,” Gimenez said. “We (the Rams pitchers) have a solid defense behind us this season and that’s a big factor.”

“It’s been pretty fun so far,” Collom said. “Getting our first win early takes the pressure off a little.”

Collom, who will likely bat third, and Gimenez, who is the de facto No. 1 starter, anchor a roster that combines recent high school grads with a sprinkling of older players who took a few years off before picking up their bats and gloves this season, along with a handful of community college transfers looking for playing time with the Andrade-led Rams program.

Among those older players in search of a new start are leftfielder Danny Reyes, a transfer from Hartnell, left-handed pitcher Ben Glines, who transferred from San Jose City College, catcher Brian Bueno, another Hartnell transfer, and Manuel Gonzales, a first baseman who took a few years off from baseball after graduating from Gilroy High, among others.

Each has been penciled into the starting lineup and will be expected to make key contributions this season, according to Andrade.

Reyes, a contact hitter, has made a strong bid for the second spot in the batting order, Glines is regarded as the No. 2 starter, Bueno will handle the staff and hit seventh, and Gonzales will hit clean-up.

Among the high schoolers who have an inside track on starting jobs are a contingent from North Monterey County, where Andrade buddy Tim Gower and Gavilan College trustee Mark Dover coach.

The Condor pipeline this season has brought second baseman Joel Lopez, who will lead-off, strong-armed rightfielder Brent Johnson, who will hit fifth, third baseman Justin Baker, who has claimed the sixth spot in the batting order, pitchers Eric Groner and Dave Razo, and backup DH Eric Goodline. Bueno and backup catcher Drew Eliopoulos also hail from Castroville.

Filling out the batting order are DH, and GHS grad, Jonathan Kirkish, a returner, and shortstop Blake Thygersen from Harbor High in Santa Cruz.

But Andrade stressed that competition for spots in the starting lineup is still alive, one advantage of a larger roster. “Numbers-wise it helps because there’s plenty of competition,” he said

Other local products playing for the Rams this season include Live Oak grad Mike Mom, Morgan Hill’s Cody Hill from Hill Manor, and Hollister’s Brett Fulgoni.

Among the pitchers expected to contribute are returning left-handers Brent Mardesich, another GHS grad, and Scott Hayslip, a Live Oak grad, as well as closer Jeff Harter, a Santa Teresa grad.

Three of Andrade’s top four starting pitchers are port-siders, a luxury not usually afforded a community college skipper, and Hayslip provides a left-handed relief specialist out of the bullpen.

A couple of key cogs in the starting rotation after Gimenez are Glines and Mardesich.

Glines is returning to action after taking a medical red-shirt while with SJCC last season after suffering an elbow injury that required surgery.

Mardesich, who spot-started last season, will also have a chance to show his stuff this year.

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