Valley fanfare precedes Utica trip
Call it an introduction that serves as motivation and inspiration.
On the eve of their first game in the New York-Penn League this season, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will be on display during a ceremony Monday at Mollica's Banquet Center in Niles.
Organized by the Mahoning Valley Professional Baseball Association, the event is being held for the third straight year.
Sendoff: The evening, which includes Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon as guest speaker, concludes with fans popping streamers over team members on their way to the bus.
Mahoning Valley opens the season Tuesday with an 11 a.m. game in Utica, N.Y., against the Blue Sox.
"It's a nice kickoff for the season," Scrappers general manager Andy Milovich said of the banquet, "and the money that's raised goes toward a scholarship."
Four area high school baseball and softball players will be awarded $1,000 scholarships.
This year's recipients are Warren John F. Kennedy's Jason Lee, Lordstown's Thomas Calko, Howland's Bethany Reinhardt and Western Reserve's Jaclyn Speece.
"That's really tough to decide," said Gail Drushel, chair of the MVPBA's scholarship committee, of potential candidates. "We're not just picking one who had a good game. We want an all-around kid who's going to go on to college."
Home away from home: While Scrappers players adjust to life in professional baseball, they also must adjust to life off the field. That all begins with finding a place to live for a couple of months.
Host families have been an integral part of the Scrappers' stay in the Valley. Just ask MVPBA president Pat McBride, who hosted pitcher Brian Jackson and catcher Brian Peterson last year in her Warren home.
"A lot of people are hesitant because it's a stranger and a young boy," said McBride, adding that more host families are needed for this season. "But they have to remember that this is [the players'] first step in their careers.
"Brian Jackson was a very quiet, well-rounded young man," she said. "Brian Peterson was my little yahoo; he was like having another 12-year old in my house."
McBride recalls the influence Jackson and Peterson had in her home.
"The nice part is they really appreciate everything you do for them," McBride said. "They keep in contact with you. They've been gone a year now, but they still call and write to me. It's fun following their careers."
Jackson has since advanced to the Cleveland Indians' Class A full-season affiliate in Kinston, N.C. Peterson was released by the Indians, but signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
Drushel related a story of how close host families become with players.
"[Current Scrappers pitcher] Luke Field got married last year," she said. "At the reception, he introduced his host family from here. He had them come out and be part of the bridal dance."
Experience counts: While most of the Scrappers are in professional baseball for the first time, the team still includes players from past seasons whose knowledge should prove beneficial.
First baseman Curtis Gay was on the roster in 1999, while catcher Angel Bastardo, outfielder Dennis Malave and Field were Scrappers who gained plenty of game experience last year.
"We were doing bunt plays, and we have some guys who have been through it," Turgeon said. "I see them teaching guys and talking about it.
"That's invaluable for me," he said. "It's like I have other coaches on the field."
Their experience will be just as important off the field, Turgeon said.
"We have a nice mix of veteran guys, and they're here because they still have something to prove," he said.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.