If you see the Fresno City baseball team spitting a lot this preseason, the reason isn't jalapeño sunflower seeds or the Valley's bad air.
"Last year left a real bad taste in our mouths," 24-year Rams coach Ron Scott said.
Fresno City struggled through a 19-18 season and tied for third in the Central Valley Conference, the lowest finish since 1996. This is a proud Rams program that has 16 championships in Scott's tenure, and the goal, as it is every year, is to get back on top and reach the state Final Four.
The road to recovery begins at 6 p.m. today when Fresno City, ranked No. 11 in Northern California, hosts No. 9 Sacramento City at John Euless Ballpark.
The smile is back on Scott's face, mainly because of the return of ex-Buchanan middle infielders Bryce Barger and Brett Bishop after both missed the majority of last season with injuries. Barger, an All-NorCal pick in 2010, and Bishop, who transferred from Cal, both have speed and will bat 3-4 in the lineup.
Things got so bad last year that Scott had two catchers at middle infield.
Another new face is sophomore second baseman Matt Telesco (Bullard), a transfer from Cal State Northridge who will bat second.
"That's like having three shortstops now in the lineup," Scott said.
Lead-off man is freshman outfielder Jackson Glines (Yosemite). Batting fifth is sophomore outfielder Connor Buss (Clovis West), followed by freshman infielder Michael Tittle (Clovis North), freshman infielder Jack Karraker (Buchanan) and freshman catcher Jeff Brown (Buchanan), the Bee's 2011 Player of the Year and all-state selection who will be backed up by freshman Gabe Perez (Central).
Sophomore left-handers Drew Merlo (Buchanan), Sean Silva (Clovis West) and Bryce Vidmar (Clovis) will anchor the pitching staff, along with sophomore lefty and University of Pacific transfer Andrew Wild (Mt. Whitney), and lefty William Rosado (Clovis East). Newcomers are Bee All-Star right-hander Devin White from Fresno and right-handed reliever James Brager (Madera), the 2011 County/Metro Athletic Conference co-Player of the Year.
"I like our staff and we're looking for an ace to emerge," Scott said.
The Rams this preseason also will face No. 7 Feather River, No. 5 Chabot and, from Southern California, No. 1 Santa Ana and No. 9 Riverside before opening conference play at NorCal No. 15 College of the Sequoias on Feb. 21.
- Also today, No. 15 Sequoias opens against Los Angeles Pierce at the Bakersfield Tournament; Reedley plays Ohlone in Fremont; West Hills, under new coach Mike Curran, hosts Napa Valley in Coalinga; and Porterville hosts Cerro Coso.