During a recent visit to George Washington High School, a chance run-in with Ken Geiser didn’t yield a lot of time for conversation. Washington’s athletic director and head baseball coach had a million things to do, from hanging the netting for the batting cages, to hanging a new baseball scoreboard, to preparing the field for game play.
Most area high school baseball coaches share Geiser’s plight this time of year: too much to do, and not enough time to do it. The season arrives so suddenly, and when the weather has been as uncooperative as it has been so far in terms of allowing teams to practice outside, it can be a chaotic, haphazard time.
But it’s also one of the most thrilling times of the athletic year. When Geiser finally found a few minutes to talk a few days later, he had trouble stopping.
“I’ll talk baseball with you all day, I’m so excited,” he gushed.
He’s not alone. Here’s a closer look at the eight local high school teams who can’t wait to get started:
PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC LEAGUE, DIVISON A
Last season: 13-1, won PL championship
Around the fifth inning of last year’s Public League title game, something sobering dawned on Frankford head coach Juan Namnun.
“I knew we were going to win the game, and then we’d have our work cut out for us in rebuilding this thing,” Namnun said.
Gone are several key players from a core group that won two straight titles, and replacing them may be Namnun’s toughest challenge yet. The man who has won three league titles in five years hasn’t been the underdog often, but that’s what the Pioneers are facing as they head into 2013.
The biggest loss will be CF Augusto Ortega, last year’s league MVP who batted over .600 from the leadoff spot. Also gone are key contributors in P Omar Cruz, P/RF Hector Cerda, P/3B Brandon Gonzalez, SS Ricky Alvarez and LF Ramon Rosario.
“Last year, I managed talent; this year, I’m going to have to coach quite a bit more,” Namnun said.
Luckily, he’ll return hulking 6-foot-5 1B Kevin Montero, who could be drafted by a Major League club in June. Other returners include Carlos Ramirez, who will take over in CF; Eduardo Sanchez, the team’s catcher; and Kidanny Cumba, a middle infielder who got some experience last year. A surprise name in the fold is Frankford’s record-setting quarterback Tim DiGiorgio, who is giving varsity baseball a try as a P/OF.
“This year could be surprising,” said Namnun, repeating a word that sums up Frankford’s uncertain standing heading into the season. “I have a huge puzzle on my desk, I just have to make the pieces fit.”
Last season: 5-8, PL semifinals
When Ken Geiser takes a look around the field and surveys his personnel, he talks hurriedly and excitedly.
Geiser brings almost everybody back in 2013, most prominently senior P/OF Jake Wright, known for his loud, fearsome bat that has turned him into one of the league’s most deadly hitters.
“The ball just sounds different coming off his bat,” Geiser said.
Geiser will also look to senior Corey Sharp (LF) and junior leadoff man/CF John Santos for both production and leadership. In addition to Wright, junior Roger Hanson and senior Aaron Keen will be counted on to lead the pitching staff, which Geiser said would make or break G.W. Other returners include Scott Siley (1B), Aaron Goldberg (3B) and Michael Honick (2B).
Geiser is well prepared for his second season as baseball coach. Last year, he stepped in at the last minute to replace longtime coach Calvin Jones, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now, with a full offseason under his belt, Geiser is ready and raring to go.
“Everybody’s thinking that this may be our year, but it’s up to us to prove that,” he said.
Franklin Towne Charter
Last season: 3-10
Having been Franklin Towne’s baseball coach since the school’s inception in 2000-01, Kyle Riley has brought the program from Public League infancy to its top division. Now, he’s hoping for more.
“We moved up to Division A after the 2008 season, and while we’ve done enough to hold on and stay in this division, I want us to break through and be a solid Division A team this season,” said Riley, in his 13th season as head coach. “Who knows what we can accomplish from there?”
Towne went just 3-10 in Division A play a season ago, but Riley thinks his team played better than its record shows, at times coming close to beating GAMP and Frankford. It helps that Riley brings back a good amount of talent, namely senior right-handed pitchers Damian Padilla and Tim Hart, as well as senior 1B Chris Hartman. The Coyotes graduated only two seniors, so Riley is hoping for a climb in the standings.
“I think all three of those guys can be All-Public,” he said. “We have a lot of players back who have gained valuable experience, so it’s obvious the potential for our team to be successful is there.”
Last season: 8-2
Head coach Sam Feldman won a Public League soccer championship last fall in his final year before retirement. Though he doesn’t expect the same to come true for baseball, he is looking forward to the challenge of finding pitchers on a roster with not many arms to go around.
“I’m hoping to magically put the pieces together and hope for the best,” he said.
Senior three-sport star Daquan Bohannon will give it a go on the mound when not playing short if a bothersome shoulder allows, as will fellow senior captain/3B Shahir Gates. C/1B Manny Duran and C Ramon Class are likely to get shots at pitching, too.
Feldman said one of his major goals for his final season is to play Northeast back into Division A. Having descended down to B after 2011, Northeast’s 8-2 mark last year gives Feldman some room to hope.
“I don’t want to go out as the guy who brought Northeast down to B … that’s not who I am. I want to leave the program in good standing.”
Last season: 6-3-1, PL quarterfinals
Lincoln head coach John Larsen is in the enviable position of bringing back a continuously improving core group of guys that have been together since freshman year.
The Railsplitters got a large monkey off their backs last year in knocking off previous tormenter Northeast to advance to the playoffs. They ultimately lost to GAMP, but it was a valuable learning experience.
“We’re very senior heavy, with seniors who have experienced so much together,” Larsen said.
The main members of this cast include pitcher Dylan Burke, 2B/SS Kevin Johnson and OF/IF/C Christian McGovern, all solid players in the league. Three-year starter Matt Dugan returns at 1B, while Larsen hopes senior Donta Negron can fill a void in CF, while raw, freshman catcher Nick Houser can develop behind the plate if McGovern doesn’t take to the position.
“Our leaders know what’s expected of them now,” Larsen said. “They know that if they play well, then the wins and losses will sort themselves out.”
Last season: 5-6, PL quarterfinals
A season after a 5-6 showing in Division B got Fels to the quarterfinals, they’ll have to try to get back to the postseason without the help of seven graduated starters.
Back are juniors Luis Rodriguez (C/P) and Diemmer Melendez (1B/3B/P). Gone is mostly everyone else from head coach George Dufner’s 2012 team.
“We have so many new guys and ninth graders that it will be a lot of Baseball 101 … teaching them the simple things,” Dufner said.
He’ll miss the group that got him to the playoffs last year, but starting anew is not something Dufner is averse to.
“It’s good and bad,” he said. “We lost a lot of kids, but I like that challenge of getting the young kids to learn and play the game properly.”
PHILADELPHIA CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Last season: 4-8
Tim Ginter, a former Crusader baseball player, summed up the end of Judge’s 2012 season pretty matter-of-factly.
“It’s always tough when your season ends,” he said. “It’s even tougher when it ends to Ryan.”
Both area Catholic League teams finished 4-8 in division play a season ago, with Ryan hosting — and winning — a first-round playoff game. Ginter believes the return of senior trio Mike O’Hanlon (LF), Chris Thompson (P) and Josh Teson (P) will equate to more Crusader victories. Thompson and Teson emerged as Judge’s top two pitchers a year ago, while O’Hanlon is back to 100 percent after he rushed back his junior season following an offseason knee injury.
Super-utility player Andrew Maenner can play all over, and Ryan Mackiewicz — also the Crusaders’ starting QB — is expected to handle Judge’s catching duties. Ginter knows the challenge ahead in the league, and hopes his team can climb the standings in 2013.
“We don’t beat dead horses,” Ginter said. “We struggled to hit, pitch and catch at times last year, and that spells 4-8. Now that we’ve been through it, I expect us to be much better.”
Last season: 4-8
While Ryan came out on top of its playoff match-up with archrival Father Judge, last season was one of transition for the Raiders.
The team was young after graduating several accomplished leaders over the previous two seasons. Now, the program’s veteran coach believes his inexperienced team from a year ago is ready to make the leap back toward the top of the standings.
“The experience those guys got last year, you can’t beat it,” said Ron Gerhart. “We’re a year older and a little stronger.”
Among the plethora of talent Ryan brings back, seniors Gage Galeone (LF) and Connor Golden (designated hitter), and junior 2B Bobby Romano are the best of the lot. Romano emerged as a major impact player as a sophomore, while Gerhart hopes senior Chris Elmes anchors an uncertain pitching rotation.
“Pitching is our biggest question mark,” Gerhart said. “We don’t have a dominant guy, so how they react in these tough league games will be a huge key.”
A “down year” following a string of several strong ones only leaves Gerhart and the Raiders salivating to get back to competing for a league title.
“Being one of the top seeds in the playoffs is a goal of ours. We talk about wanting to be the best in the league, and it takes a year for the young guys to realize what that takes. Now, I don’t have to preach it to them. Now, they know they’re in for the fight of their lives whenever they take the field.” ••