Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 18, 2014

Sheaffer and Rays to open season against Bristol Pirates

PRINCETON — Raise the curtain. It’s opening night for the 2014 Princeton Rays.

Manager Danny Sheaffer and the Rays welcome the Bristol Pirates to Hunnicutt Field with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Sheaffer returns to Princeton for his second year at the helm and having had relatively little time with the Rays composed as they are, he’s anxious to get the season underway.

Asked how the team looks so far, Sheaffer responded, “That’s always a tough question until you see what you’re matched up against in the league. But right now you can’t compare it to last year’s team because it’s a different team. I do like the make up. I really like the athleticism of our players and it’s a young team. They’ll be challenged here, but I think we’ll be all right.”

After a tough first half of the season in 2013, the Rays played .500 ball the second half of the season. With a new group this year Sheaffer hopes to avoid the pitfalls that hit the squad early last year, and use the players’ abilities to their fullest extent.

“We’ve got some guys that can run. We’ve got some guys that are capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and it really, really looks good on paper,” Sheaffer said. “We’ll see if I’m smart enough to figure it out, to put them in the right spots and motivate them and all of that. There’s a lot of tool sets here with our guys. We’ve got some very good players and I’m excited about the prospects of this year.”

For the opener Sheaffer will hand the ball to 6’4 right-handed hurler Jose Alonzo with Nick  Ciuffo behind the plate. Nic Wilson will be at first, Cristian Toribio at second, Riley Unroe at shortstop and Carter Burgess at third. The outfield will consist of Angel Moreno, Thomas Milone and Manny Sanchez.

Sheaffer, a former major league player, took time to lament the passing earlier this week of Hall of Fame player Tony Gwynn.

“There were a few pure hitters in this game in my generation that I played against, or played with, or grew up watching and you throw Tony Gwynn right in there with Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and the new ones of Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and those guys,” Sheaffer commented. “Those are great hitters but Tony did over almost two decades and Tony did it for 19 years in a row, batting over .300 and Tony was a very, very quiet ambassador for the game.

“He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He played for one team and it was a thrill to play against him. He always treated me as a gentleman and would never say ‘no’ to an autograph. The bats I have signed by Tony, the balls I have signed by Tony are closer to me now than they were yesterday. He was a wonderful ambassador and a great player.”

Turning back to the 2014 Rays, Sheaffer said this year is a bit different from last, his first as the P-Rays manager.

“It’s a little easier that it was last year because we’ve got the lay of the land and know what to expect coming into Princeton. This is the roots of minor league baseball,” Sheaffer said. “This is where it starts for a lot of guys and this is going to be a good experience for them. It brings back a lot of memories, this level, for me, and I think as I get older I have learned a little bit more about how to handle young men than I used to 10, 15 years ago.”

Sheaffer is assisted by batting coach Reinaldo Ruiz and pitching coach Jose Gonzalez, new to the P-Rays staff this season.

First pitch tonight is set for 7:05 at Hunnicutt Field.

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline.com, Twitter @bdtredd

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