Returning skipper expects team to be ready from day one

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE — The 2013 Chillicothe Mudcats baseball season had its unofficial beginning Friday night (Jan. 18) when the organization hosted its traditional "First Pitch" reception for its head coach for the next season and its fans.
The event at The Fast Lane Family Entertainment Center in Chillicothe featured remarks by Eric Peterson, second-year head coach of the college-level summer baseball team, new Mudcats general manager Doug Doughty, and team board president W.L. "Butch" Shaffer III.
The event, as it traditionally has, also was the occasion for the official announcement of a large donation to the Mudcats organization by Chillicothe Development Corporation (CDC). Bill Young represented the economic development and enhancement group in disclosing the $10,000 donation.
The team each year uses the money to help maintain and enhance its municipally-owned home field in W.L. "June" Shaffer Memorial Park, which benefits not only the Mudcats, but also the Chillicothe High School and Chillicothe Cardinals American Legion baseball programs which also play at the Shaffer Park stadium.
Peterson, an assistant baseball coach and director of baseball operations for the University of Kansas now, is a Lawrence, Kan., native who not only is home for his school-year job, but also says he feels he's "home" by having another year at the helm of the Mudcats.
"It's exciting to be back," he said after addressing the crowd of about 30-40 fans, sponsors, organization members, and others who attended Friday's event. "…I like the coaching staff and obviously the board and everyone who works within the Chillicothe team and organization.
"It's great to be back home."
Having led the 2012 Mudcats to their winningest season ever – 33 victories – mainly on the strength of a strong finish to the regular season, Peterson said last season was a learning experience for him, in terms of developing a team roster and dealing with the personnel changes – whether before the summer season even starts or in-season – which inevitably are required, due to injuries or assorted non-baseball-related issues. He told the crowd he, in consultation with Doughty, made adjustments in fashioning the tentative roster, which is complete, reaching out to regional NCAA Division II and NAIA schools to attract their best players.
"What we did last year, especially in the second half of the season, really set the tone and the idea of what we're trying to do," he related. "We had a great year last year – the first half, I was reminded, wasn't so good, but we went 20-5 the second half. …What worked in the second half, as you saw, was some of the guys that came in from the North Woods and other leagues that helped us out were smaller-school guys. Those were the guys that were playing in the spring– getting the ABs (at-bats), getting their (college-season playing) time.
"This was a big "light at the end of the tunnel" type of thing for me when we built this roster. … We were still going to stick with the (NCAA) Division I guys, just because they are bigger, they're faster, they're stronger, but we're going to get guys that play. We are going to get guys that had a significant time in the spring, so when they get to us the 31st of May, they're ready to go. They're ready to play. I don't want to wait until July 1 to start winning games."
Among players with local or regional connections who have signed to be Mudcats in 2013 is former Carrollton High School standout left-handed pitcher Zach Davis. Davis now attends and plays for the University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg.
In an interview following his remarks to the crowd, new GM Doughty , the former umpiring coordinator for the MINK League in which the Chillicothe team plays, shared why he was supportive – with the consensus support of the team's board of directors – of keeping Peterson in charge.
"I liked that the team was well-coached, first of all. Having umpired in collegiate baseball for a few years, I recognize good coaches and the demeanor of the players, their hustle on and off the field, the discipline that they showed – there were a lot of good plays, a lot of good pitching, good hitting – I just liked the way he coached and managed the team," he stated.
Doughty also provided those in attendance with a sense of what he and the organization hope will be an enhanced fan experience at Mudcats baseball games in 2013.
"We're trying to bring more value to our sponsors. We're trying to provide the fans with a little higher level of entertainment," he related. "You know, fans today aren't like they were years and years ago – the old-school fans that come for baseball (only). Fans need to be entertained now.
"With that, we have some (new) promotion ideas and in-between-innings ideas that will help facilitate some of the fans' entertainment. The big thing, too – bring some value to the sponsors. The sponsors dole out some money to support the Mudcats and we want them happy and to have a value in that sponsorship."
While many ideas remain in the development stage or under consideration, Doughty did announce publicly that the team has contracted for what he believes will be a very special attraction on Independence Day.
"The United States Military All-Stars will be making an appearance July 4," the general manager detailed. "We hope to have that in conjunction with (Chillicothe's traditional) Freedom Run and the Freedom Festival. It will be a late-afternoon game."
The event will serve as not only an opportunity for competition on the diamond, but also as a fund-raising event for an important cause and an occasion to salute the men and women who have served or are currently serving the country in the armed forces.
"The United States Military All-Stars are a group of active servicemen that most of them were in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are now touring the country and playing for the 'Wounded Warriors' project," Doughty further explained.
"These guys are coming to Chillicothe on July 4. There should be a lot of festivities. They have a big opening ceremony that includes local veterans and we're really looking forward to that."
More information on the 2013 Chillicothe Mudcats, who are due to start their 12th season of wood-bat summer baseball with a non-league home game May 31, is available on the team's website,
www.chillicothemudcats. com.