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Martinsville Mustangs begin 'spring training' with season set to begin this week
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Martinsville Mustangs begin 'spring training' with season set to begin this week

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It’s been more than three months since the college baseball season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now that Martinsville Mustangs players are able to get back on the field and prepare for the 2020 season, the excitement at Hooker Field has been hard to contain.

“I think the guys are more excited than anybody. They’ve been running around like it’s little league,” said Mustangs coach Jake Marinelli. “It’s just good to be back, for sure.”

Marinelli last sat in a dugout and coached a game on March 9 with Mercyhurst North East. Now, he’s preparing for the Mustangs’ first exhibition game on Thursday.

When college summer league baseball teams come together, there’s always a feeling out period for teams to learn all the players and gel together. With a shortened season and a delayed start, that time will be coupled with a time for players getting back into game shape.

The team began practices this weekend, and will have what Marinelli calls a “spring training” this week.

“We’re just trying to keep it as loose as possible,” he said. “Let them do what they have to do to get to know each other. They know how to get ready and I’m just giving them all the freedom that they possibly can. So until they figure out, ‘O.K., I need this amount of time, this is who I’m playing catch with,’ hoping they can gel a little bit, I think that’s going to be kind or our route we’re taking.”

The biggest worry for Mustangs coaches with players returning to the field is with the pitching staff. Marinelli knows it will take time for pitchers to get their pitch counts up while taking care of their arms after a long layoff, and said he’ll likely limit each pitcher to about 30 pitches per game during the week of exhibitions.

Marinelli said Thursday’s exhibition will be played as a “scripted game”, and they’ll build up to “hit the ground running” when league play starts on July 2.

“It’s tough to put together a lot of games with guys throwing 30 pitches, but once we get through that first stretch and then we can get them up to where they’ll be and get back to about 100, that’s the biggest concern right now.

“They’re working hard. They kept themselves in pretty good shape.”

The pitching staff is one area of the Mustangs Marinelli said he feels extremely confident, and said he can’t wait to watch his arms every night.

“I think we have a lot of pro guys in the future. There’s a possible draft guy on the bump throughout the entire game,” he said.

Tunstall graduate Will Davis, a sophomore at Ferrum College, is a right handed pitcher on the Mustangs staff this summer.

Marinelli also pointed to the team’s outfield, which he called “fantastic.” Bassett and Patrick Henry Community College graduate Christian Easley, who will move on to play at University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the fall, joins a host of Division I talent in the outfield from North Carolina A&T, Gardner Webb, and VMI.

“We have really good players from kind of all over,” Marinelli said. “Offensively they’re fantastic and I think they can all go and get the ball. I’m excited about them.

The Mustangs’ roster has been in constant change over the last month due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Marinelli said many players were limited by their college coaches, while others and their parents felt uncomfortable sending players away with the virus still in flux.

Every player was tested for COVID-19 before arriving in Martinsville, something both Marinelli and Mustangs General Manager Ruthanne Duffy said players were all open to.

“We had a meeting last Thursday on Zoom and I’d say by Sunday 90 percent of the guys already had their test results and sent them in,” Marinelli said. “So they were right on top of it which made us really excited because it showed they want to do whatever it takes to play so those are the guys we want.

“We still have some guys coming in late that aren’t here yet, but right now we have a really good core so I’m excited to just add to that.”

Marinelli is the head baseball coach at Mercyhurst North East, a 2-year school in Pennsylvania. He coached travel baseball the last two summers, but said he wanted to open new doors and meet new players and coaches in a different part of the country this summer.

He was hired by the Mustangs in December.

“Just kind of broaden my horizons a little bit and I think so far that’s looking like it’s going to be a good idea,” he said.

Marinelli will be joined by another familiar name on the coaching staff. Brandon Nania, a former PHCC standout who was an assistant for the Patriots this season, will be an assistant with the Mustangs this summer.

Marinelli is somewhat familiar with Hooker Field, having coached against PHCC with Mercyhurst for a 4-game series in 2018.

“It’s a good baseball place. I can tell there’s a lot of fans,” he said. “I can go to restaurants and there are Mustangs jerseys hanging up so I’m excited for the people to come out and have some baseball back for the first time in a while. It’ll be good.”

The Mustangs will open the season with an exhibition game against the Guilford Lumberkings on Thursday at Hooker Field at 7 p.m.

“Just being back in the dugout, having games every day, building relationships with these guys, hopefully we can teach them a thing or two, they can teach up a thing or two, and everybody comes out with a positive experience,” Marinelli said.

Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.

Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.

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