The Piedmont Pride began play in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League Monday night.
Former Winthrop baseball coach Joe Hudak started the team and also coaches the group of college players drawn from all levels, from all parts of the country.
“The last four days have been phenomenal for me,” said Hudak. “It’s good to be back on the field, kind of back in your element, and what I’ve always enjoyed doing. Coaching college kids and pretty much doing the same thing we did at Winthrop. We didn’t have a lot of preparation, but it’s really been cool for me to be back on the field.”
The team is backed by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and will be involved in mission work and community service projects throughout the summer. The Pride will be busy because it’s also playing 40 games in a short period of time, for an average of about six games a week.
Hudak worked out a deal with Winthrop, the school where he coached the Eagle baseball team for 19 years, for the Pride to play home games at Winthrop Ballpark. Tickets to all games - except the opening three, which are free - are $5 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens and free for kids 12 years and younger.
Hudak’s group is one of three new teams in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. The six-team league is based in and around the Charlotte area and uses wooden bats. The other teams are the SBA Bones and Carolina Vipers - both based out of Charlotte -, the Concord Weavers, the Statesville Owls and the Lake Norman Copperheads.
Most of the games will be held at high school fields, so Hudak and the Pride are thankful to play home contests at Winthrop’s Division I-quality facility.
“It’s pretty cool to be back in this stadium,” Hudak said Monday, as his players filmed introduction videos that will be played during home games on the scoreboard.
The Pride players have been together for less than a week, so Hudak will be tinkering with the lineup for the first few weeks of the season. He said he’s seen some good swings in batting practice and inter-squad games, but that he needs 7’o’clock players, not 5’o’clock players.
“Some guys are just bad practice players and then you have the opposite,” said Hudak. “We’ll be trying to figure out what we’ve got.”
The Pride plan to add a few more players, including some pitchers, in the coming weeks, while still waiting on Coastal Carolina catcher Matt Beaird to report, after the Chanticleers were eliminated from the NCAA baseball tournament over the weekend.
Christian Cok (Lewisville) and Jaden Savage (Fort Mill) are the two Piedmont Pride players with local ties. Both found out about the possibility about a month and a half ago, and both will be staying at home with their families for the summer.
Cok pitched in 16 games for Randolph-Macon College (Va.), going 1-1 with a 3.63 earned run average. Cok struck out 15 and walked just four as a freshman who appeared in short spurts. He wants to improve his stamina this summer so he can get some longer outings in school ball next spring.
“I’m just trying to get better pitching so I can see more mound-time next year and help my team,” said Cok, who has a sidearm delivery. “Improve here so I can succeed there.”
Savage, a freshman outfielder, played in 19 games for USC Upstate, batting .176.
“This summer the main goal is to get as many at-bats as possible,” said Savage. “In college ball, with such sporadic at-bats, playing here, playing there, but not being consistently in the lineup, that’s where this summer ball is really gonna help you out.”
Players to watch
▪ Infielder Joey Pena, from St. Thomas Aquinas College just outside of New York City, led his team with a .356 batting average and started 48 games with just six errors. Another Pride middle infielder, Andy Santana, led Geneva College with a .372 batting average, starting 26 of the team’s 40 games. Pride coach Joe Hudak began his head coaching career at Geneva back in 1981.
Teammates are calling Pena - the second baseman - and Santana - the shortstop - “Chips and Salsa.” Santan was already nicknamed “Salsa,” so Pena’s new nickname only made sense when the two were partnered in the middle of the Pride defensive infield.
“They both have really good hands,” said Hudak. “I think they’re a good double-play combination.”
▪ The two players signed with Mississippi State are both junior college transfers. Tanner Poole should see plenty of time in the Pride’s outfield, while Rigby will likely be the team’s closer out of the bullpen. Hudak said that Rigby hits close to 90 miles per hour consistently and he has a sidearm delivery that unsettles batters.
St. Thomas Aquinas College
St. Thomas Aquinas College
Southeast Missouri State
Eastern New Mexico University
Belmont Abbey College
Southeast Missouri State
Home games at Winthrop Ballpark; DH- doubleheader
3- SBA Bones, 7 p.m.; 5- at Carolina Vipers (Charlotte Latin HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 6- Carolina Vipers, 5 p.m. (DH); 8- at Lake Norman Copperheads (Hopewell HS), 7 p.m.; 10- at Lake Norman Copperheads (Hopewell), 7 p.m.; 12- at Statesville Owls (Statesville HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 13- Statesville Owls, 5 p.m. (DH); 15- Carolina Vipers, 7 p.m.; 17- at Carolina Pride (Charlotte Latin), 7 p.m.; 19- at Lake Norman Copperheads (Hopewell HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 20- Lake Norman Copperheads, 5 p.m. (DH); 22- at Concord Weavers (Cox Mill HS), 7 p.m.; 24- Concord Weavers, 7 p.m.; 26- at SBA Bones (Charlotte Christian HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 27- SBA Bones, 5 p.m. (DH); 29- at Statesville Owls (Statesville HS), 7 p.m.
1- Statesville Owls, 7 p.m.; 3- Concord Weavers, 5 p.m. (DH); 4- at Concord Weavers (Cox Mill HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 6- Lake Norman Copperheads, 7 p.m.; 8- Lake Norman Copperheads, 7 p.m.; 10- at Carolina Vipers (Charlotte Latin HS), 5 p.m. (DH); 11- Statesville Owls, 5 p.m. (DH); 13- at Concord Weavers (Cox Mill HS), 7 p.m.; 14- SBA Bones, 7 p.m.; 15- Concord Weavers, 7 p.m.; 17- at SBA Bones (Charlotte Christian HS), 7 p.m.