Front: Newark's Andrew Tidwell (Saginaw Valley St.) delievers a pitch against the Elmira Pioneers on Monday night at Colburn Park. Photos courtesy Newark Pilots/Steve Plopper
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Residents of Newark, a village of about 10,000 people in New York, have been anxiously waiting for the return of summer. The warm weather means the reopening of Newark's Colburn Park for summer baseball.
The village has plenty to be excited about. The Newark Pilots are only in their second year of existence, but in their first season the Pilots brought the inaugural Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Championship title to Newark.
Last season the Pilots finished 26-22. They were able to capitalize on the strength of their pitchers in the playoffs. Three Pilots pitchers were ranked in PGCBL's top 30 prospects. Carson Beauchaine (Saginaw Valley State) came in at 13th on the rankings. Justin D'Amato(St. John Fisher) came in at 20 and Dominick Ruscitti (Kutztown) rounded out the group at 30.
In a very short time the team has become an integral part of the Newark community. More than 1,800 fans turned out to support the Pilots at their home opener at renovated Colburn Park.
"The support from the fans has been amazing. They were calling me all off-season telling me they couldn't wait for the season to start," Brian Connell, the Newark Pilot's General Manager, explains.
The Newark Pilots have the distinction of being the only team created in conjunction with the formation of the PGCBL. All other teams in the league were formerly members of the New York Collegiate League. The Newark Raptors, the last team to play at Colburn Park, played their last game in 2005.
"Last year we weren't real sure coming in because it was a new team, we've had a few teams come through Newark in the past," Brian Connell explains. "But last year we averaged close to a thousand fans a game. It's only built from there."
The Pilots ended last season with a victory over the Amsterdam Mohawks for the PGCBL Championship. They began the road to defend that title with a victory over the Watertown Wizards on June 6th.
"Our organization, the_ people here, the owners, the managers, they're awesome. They do it the right way. It's all very professional. It's not just summer ball to these people, especially the town," Head Coach Chris Ebright stressed the importance of the community, "The players have seen it now, but before our first meeting I tried to let them know the expectations of the town, the owners, and the quality of baseball it takes to win"
The Pilot's Coach Ebright is returning for another season with his championship winning team. Along with Coach Ebright, four players from the 2011 season are back on the roster. Sean Osterman (St. John Fisher), Adam Grace (Erie Community College), and Andrew Tidwell (Saginaw Valley State) are all returning for a second season with the team.
Coach Ebright talked about what the returning players are bringing to the team, "The three of them have kind of taken over the same roles they had last year. They're all kind of their own personality and are leading in their own way."
The Pilots started with four players from the championship roster returning this season. After the MLB draft their roster had three. Michael Saunders (Saginaw Valley State) was drafted in the 24th round to the Cincinnati Reds. "I mean it's too bad for us, but a great opportunity for him." Brian Connell. The Pilot's will be bringing back Mark Scott (San Joaquin Delta), last year's closer, in place of Saunders.
Returning players are expected to make a huge impact this season. But several new players are expected to perform well for the Pilots. Coach Ebright is confident in starting pitcher Johnathan Christensen (Oklahoma Baptist), "I expect him to throw like a number one all summer."
The Pilots have also brought in Sean Simonz (Oklahoma Baptist) as their closer, he's been throwing in low 90s and already has a couple saves. The Pilots also have three players from Delta State University, Cullen Babin, Josh Crowdus and Brent Langston. Both have a history on a successful team. This year Delta State went to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship.
As much fun as bringing the title to Newark was, Brian Connell says "It's not just about the game, it's about the experience the fans have in the ballpark. We try to put on a good show and put on a good family fun experience."