Bucks Hoping To Continue On-Field Success In 2015
The boys of summer are back. The Waterloo Bucks open their 2015 season on Tuesday (May 26).
The Bucks begin their 21st season of Northwoods League (NWL) baseball with a two-game road series against the Alexandria Blue Anchors in Minnesota. Their home-opener against the Mankato MoonDogs is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. at new-look Riverfront Stadium.
Waterloo has been the best summer collegiate league team in the nation the past two years, posting a 96-46 record. The Bucks enter their new season with high hopes of continuing the on-field success they enjoyed in 2013 and 2014. But, Waterloo has a new field manager in 2015.
During the off-season, the Bucks promoted pitching coach Tony Manville to replace Travis Kiewiet, who guided Waterloo to a 130-81 record in three years as the team's skipper.
Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, Kiewiet resigned as Waterloo's field manager in October. The Dike resident, who teaches in the Hudson School District, has a reduced role with the team this year, serving as a part-time volunteer assistant coach.
There will be several new faces on the 2015 roster, but seven players are returning from last season. The veteran position guys include catcher Zach Soria (Florida International), along with infielders Mikal Hill (Winston-Salem State), Ryan Nagle (Illinois) and Luke Stratman (Lamar). Experienced pitchers are Brett Jurceka (Evansville), Australian Nick Veale (Minnesota State-Mankato) and Eric Veglahn (St. Thomas).
"Bringing back guys who have been around gives the new guys a sense of comfortability," said Manville, Waterloo's pitching coach the past two seasons. "They can lean on them and ask questions, learn how things are run. I think it's important to have guys come back just for that aspect.
"The group of guys we've got coming in, I think, are going to mesh well."
Chemistry is often a key component for any team to have success, especially in the NWL where the recruiting process is hit or miss. Manville knows it will take a few games to determine the potential of this year's team.
"When you recruit a team for the Northwoods League, you don't really see many of the guys play before hand," he explained. "To say what our strength would be right now is a little tough. But, I'm very excited about what we have. We'll be able to tell in another week or so what we have."
In addition to the returning talent, the 2015 Waterloo roster also features three infielders who have famous bloodlines. Zach Jarrett (Charlotte) is the son of NASCAR Hall-of Famer Dale Jarrett, Taylor Lane (Florida) is a cousin of former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star Herschel Walker, and Mark Hernandez (Long Island) is a cousin of country superstar Jason Aldean.
The 2015 season will be the first for the Bucks under new ownership. In September, the franchise was purchased by the Cedar Rapids Ball Club, the group that owns the Cedar Rapids Kernels minor league team. The new owners have spent $70,000 on upgrades at Riverfront Stadium and also have planned an ambitious schedule of promotions and giveaways this year.
Also new for 2015 is a new post-season playoff format. The Northwoods League has expanded the playoff field from four teams to eight.