Nearly 12 hours after his day started, State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez stepped off a Fullington bus outside of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Rodriguez is ready for his second season leading the Spikes after finishing up work at extended spring training.
“I couldn’t wait,” Rodriguez said in his office Saturday. “Even this morning, I got up at 3 a.m. to get a 4 o’clock bus to go to the airport.”
Rodriguez and his players arrived with the season opener looming at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Williamsport. The Spikes’ home opener is set for Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against the Crosscutters. The arrival roster includes 21 players who understand what Rodriguez expects and know all the signs. They’ll be joined by players selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB Draft, which finished Saturday.
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Rodriguez estimated the Spikes will get between nine and 13 players from the draft. He said he’ll probably know by Sunday who the additions will be.
The manager aims to get to know the draft selections right away.
“It’s kind of a rush, but it’s just got to get to know them and then give it like a two-week period, I call it the honeymoon,” Rodriguez said. “They can miss signs but after two weeks, you cannot.”
Spikes infielders Josh Swirchak and Danny Martin started their professional careers a year ago.
Swirchak played in 43 games for State College and appeared in 10 games for Single-A Peoria.
Swirchak hit .229 with 15 RBIs for the Spikes.
He said he got more comfortable every game — experience he expects to pay off this summer.
“I think it’s going to be a lot better my second year here,” Swirchak said.
Martin said he’s ready to go after his first year was cut short by a hip injury caused by overuse.
After playing in 14 games and getting 46 at-bats, Martin had to rest his hip.
He remembers the adjustment to pro ball being tough.
“First 15 at-bats, I didn’t really know what hit me,” said Martin, who hit .304 with eight RBIs last season. “I was nervous, and I think that’s the biggest part is coming in knowing what I’m getting into and knowing that the fans are out here supporting us and to kind of play with a fire versus playing with a little bit of nerves.”
Rodriguez said this group is not ready to compete at the New York-Penn League level yet.
His players need to improve defensively, and they struggled with hitting a quality fastball during extended spring training.
“They have a lot of work to do,” Rodriguez said. “They know, we were 15-12-2 in extended and we lost a lot of players to Palm Beach because there was a lot of injuries. But the group that’s here needs a lot of work. They don’t have room for error.”
The Spikes have four days of workouts planned this week to get ready for the opener.
A dozen returnees on roster
Martin and Swirchak are among 12 players on the roster who have played for the Spikes in the past.
Pitchers Steven Farinaro and Dewin Perez both made appearances in State College in 2014. Farinaro had one start that season, and Perez went 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA in 13 starts.
Fellow pitchers Max Almonte, Carson Cross, Jhonatan Escudero, Dailyn Martinez, Greg Tomchick, Gerwuins Velazco were on the Spikes roster last season.
Martinez pitched in one game for the Spikes in 2014 and appeared in 14 games last year.
Swirchak, Martin and Elier Rodriguez — the infielders on the arrival roster — all played for the Spikes in 2015. Catcher Riley Drongesen rounds out the returnees.