PRINCETON — Tim Taylor said his Princeton Tigers have looked like a “bunch of ballplayers” during the first three weeks of practice indoors, hitting the batting cages downtown after school each day before retreating to the confines of Prouty Gym for infield and defensive work.
“As to how they look on the field, boy, that’s anybody’s guess right now. As soon as we get to the field, I’ll let you know how that one looks,” Taylor said.
For now, that is anybody’s guess as the area mounds are frozen, and fields remain wet as Mother Nature takes her time to turn the fields over for spring baseball. The Tigers are scheduled to play at Ottawa Monday and at Earlville Tuesday.
“The mounds are frozen. I was over in Ottawa, and they don’t look any better than ours. I don’t see it happening until the last week of March, unfortunately,” Taylor said.
What the third-year Tiger skipper does know is he has a returning cast of experienced players, including four seniors with one to three years of varsity ball under their belts, and four juniors with one year with the big club. Throw in a 30-game slate over the summer, and Taylor said the Tigers are well prepared to improve on last year’s 9-23 campaign.
“Six boys played in excess of 60 games last year with summer baseball, so it’s like having all seniors on the field,” Taylor said. “We certainly look to improve over last year. We let some opportunities get by us last year. I think these guys have just a great attitude to go out there and not give any games away and to take everyone of them away from everybody else they can get.
“When we give them the opportunity to stay and get extra work, they’re wanting to do it every time, so we’re looking to make improvements over last year.”
Seniors Matt Hayes (1B/OF) and Nick Rolando (C/SS) return as anchors of the team, both suiting up for the third season for Taylor on varsity. Hayes batted .352 with a team-high 19 RBIs and seven doubles as a junior. They are joined by classmates Jason Bowler (3B) and Austin Schindel (1B).
“Matt and Nick were day-to-day starters and did a nice job. We’re fortunate to have both of them back as well as Jason and Austin,” said Taylor, noting that Bowler is showing a little more pop in bat and sting in ball when he’s throwing the ball.
The junior class has varsity experience with Logan Wilde (C), Caleb Dickens (3B), Isaiah Taylor (CF) and J.J. Vaccaro (2B), all returning for their second season. Vaccaro returns as the leading hitter (.353) from the 2012 season, and Taylor said Dickens has stepped up his game.
Junior Dylan Schafer was shut down after making just one pitching appearance with the varsity last year before undergoing shoulder surgery. He is still rehabbing the shoulder, Taylor said, and will not pitch this year.
The junior class is rounded out by outfielders Jacob Estrada, C.J. Hillard and Tyler Marvin, who got back in the game over the summer.
The pitching staff is strong in numbers, led by the righty-lefty combo of Hayes (3-1, 2.46) and Taylor (2-3, 2.89). Other candidates included Rolando, Dickens, Marvin, Vaccaro and Hillard.
“I’m looking forward to watching these guy grow as young men. They certainly have impressed me so far with the people they are,” Taylor said. “It’s been a lot of fun for me to watch them grow from boys to men, and I think they’re going to be young men that contribute and give back.”
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