By Rick Sheek
Caleb Moore, the former East Tennessee State star and Elizabethton Twin, has taken over the task of pumping life into the Happy Valley baseball program.
The Warriors won but two games last year. Moore is the fourth different coach in the past seven years.
“We’re going to be young,” Moore said before Tuesday’s scrimmage with West Greene. “We’ve got a lot of young players. I’d say about half our roster is made up of freshmen, which it’s good and bad in its own right.
“We’re going to be counting on a lot of freshmen to step up. We might have a handful of freshmen that can start on varsity.”
Returning varsity players with experience are senior catcher Zack Miller, senior left-hander Justin Norris, junior second baseman Colton Haun and junior third baseman Camen Wilder.
“We’re going to take our lumps, but it is going to be great experience for them,” Moore said. “What I’ve really enjoyed is seeing the kids grow already, seeing how they’ve adapted to a new coach and just being able to make adjustments and learn. Like I told them, it’s not how we start the season — we just need to get better and better. Towards conference tournament we should be hitting our peak.”
Justin Reagan, a senior, will start in the outfield. A pair of freshmen, shortstop Justin Maupin and pitcher Correy Garland, are also big parts of the Warriors’ plans.
“Those are some of the younger guys that standout in my mind,” Moore said. “Everywhere else is kind of still up for grabs.”
The youth movement doesn’t bother the coach. Consider only a decade ago he was beginning his collegiate career as an ETSU freshman.
“I love it,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I think that there’s a lot of talent in the freshmen class, and actually the eighth-grade class coming up. I really expect these kids to keep on growing, and just mature as baseball players.
“Once they understand it, I think it’s going to be a great group of kids to watch.”
He stresses he doesn’t expect a upperclassman to necessarily be held responsible for guiding Happy Valley.
“It’s a different kind of team,” Moore said. “Like I tell them, I don’t care if it’s a freshman or a senior who steps up and is a leader. Somebody has to take control of the team.
“Just because you’re a senior doesn’t automatically make you a leader. A freshman can lead by example.”
There are 18 players out.
“I feel great about this group,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t trade them for any other team in the Tri-Cities. I want to see all of these kids graduate and just grow as young men.
“I’m not looking to go anywhere. They’re going to have to fire me. That’s the only way they’re going to get rid of me. I can’t wait to see this group, with all these freshmen, three years from now.”
Sounds like the coach has his work cut out in the time being.
“Playing the game hard,” Moore said. “We’re going to run hard. We’re going to force the defense to make a lot of plays.
“We’re not going to be able to hit the ball out of the ballpark, so we’re going to have to be fundamentally sound.”
There are 10 pitchers.
“Really it’s just going to go kind of with, I don’t want to say the hot hand, but that’s really how it’s going to be,” Moore said. “A lot of piggy-backing, meaning some guys are going to throw three innings and have to partner up. Our rotation is going to be deep, but what I want those kids to do is throw strikes. That’s the main thing.”
Make no doubt, Norris is the ace.
“He’s pitched for awhile, and he’s got the experience,” Moore said. “Some of these coaches try to go matchups, but we’re going to pitch every game. We can’t go 2-0 until we win the first game.
“There’s no such thing as saving your pitching for tomorrow, because tomorrow could be a rainout. You can’t save pitching, because I want to win every single game. We’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”
The coach envisions the Warriors possible bringing up the rear in the Three Rivers Conference. That’s at least in the early going.
“From what I’ve heard, I don’t know too much about it, but Sullivan East is going to be tough,” Moore said. “East, and of course Unicoi and Elizabethton are probably going to be the top teams from what I hear. Each team has their strengths and weaknesses, so we’re going to have to play fundamentally sound ball to beat anybody in this conference. It’s a tough conference from top to bottom.”