'Betsy Twins ready to get in gear; season-opener tonight

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Once the Appalachian League baseball season begins, everyone in Elizabethton knows that summer has officially arrived.
   After a 36-30 effort in 2002, the Twins are back in Elizabethton and ready to rumble in a season that returns seven players to their lineup, which boasts an international flavor of players from Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the United States.
   The Twins arrived in Elizabethton on Saturday, and underwent their first official day of practice Sunday before their season opener on the road against the defending league champion Bristol White Sox tonight.
   "It's like any season, going through the first couple of days," said Twins manager Ray Smith. "The guys came in (Saturday night) around 8:30 p.m. and after a long bus trip they threw it around today and went pretty hard."
   "We're ready to play a real season," he said. "They worked hard in the sun and the workout went pretty good tonight."
   Smith is in the midst of his third reign as manager of the Elizabethton Twins.
   It's his 16th season on staff and his seventh at the helm, where he has guided Elizabethton to a 268-204 record, including three first-place finishes.
   "The pitchers all threw for five minutes on the side and the team got to hit underneath the lights for the first time," he added. "They're nervous, but these guys are professionals and ready to go out there."
   Jeff Reed and Jim Shellenback also return to the squad's staff this season.
   Reed is serving second year with the squad as the hitting coach, while Shellenback, in his 26th year with the Twins organization, will return as pitching coach.
   Returning to the team after the 2002 season are Appy League all-star Dusty Goman (IF/Jacksonville, Florida) and crowd favorites Felix Molina (IF/Mayaguez, Puerto Rico), Sam Taylor (IF/San Leandro, CA), Julio DePaula (P/Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) and Tim Henkenjohann (P/Wilhelmshaven, Germany).
   Also making the trip back to Elizabethton are Doug Deeds (OF/Columbus, OH) and Justin Sims (OF/Knoxville, TN). Deeds and Sims are currently listed on the disabled list through the beginning of the season.
   Gomon and Molina were power hitters for the team last season. Gomon had a .302 batting average with 14 home runs, while Molina had nine doubles with his .263 average.
   Deeds hit .322 last season with the Twins and will be a crucial force upon returning to play.
   Elizabethton will sport a new set of outfielders and catchers this season, with an array of new pitchers that includes Hiroyuki Lida (Yamaguchi, Japan) in his first year of professional play.
   Overall, the Twins will see 11 players in their first year of professional play.
   "They're enthused and were ready to come down to Elizabethton and see things for themselves after hearing that it's a good hometown," Smith said. "The people here are real supportive of their baseball team."
   "With the age-limit rule, we only have so many first-year players," he said. "We have a good mix of young starters, veterans and go-to guys. We had two guys fly in tonight and we'll have one tomorrow, so it will be a whole different situation for the guys once the season gets underway."
   Additional pitchers on the Twins roster include: Eric Brandon (Nashville, TN), Kevin Culpepper (Toccoa, GA), Angel Garcia (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), Josh Gray (Orange, TX), Ryan Hader (Kansas City, MO), John Lynch (Robbinsdale, MN), Chris Marini (Glendale, AZ), Evan Meek (Bothell, WA), Paul Mutch (Brisbane, Australia), Chris Schutt (Park Ridge, IL), Levale Speigner (Thomasville, GA) and Jon Uhl (Tampa, FL).
   Dennis Medina, a right-hander from Cabimas, Venezuela may see the start on the mound against Bristol on Monday.
   Catching for the squad are Jesse Collins (Palm Beach Gardens, FL), Kyle Geiger (Greenwood, IN), Josh Johnson (Ridgeway, PA) and Kyle Phillips (La Mesa, CA).
   Justin Arneson (Racine, WI), Angelo Fermin (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) and Brock Peterson (Centralia, WA) will also be roaming the infield for the club.
   Manning the outfield will be Ron Perodin (Inglewood, CA), Jason Pospishil (Penrith, Australia), Denard Span (Tampa, FL) and Ryan Spataro (Barrie, Ontario).
   There will be several promotion dates for the squad at home, including their home opener on Tuesday.
   Sponsored by the Elizabethton STAR, "Family Night" will provide free admission to everyone who attends, and Sheriff John Henson will give away a used car. Fans will enjoy free ice cream and a great night of family entertainment.
   The Twins will travel to Kingsport on Wednesday before hosting the Mets on Thursday. Game time for tonight's opener at Bristol is 7 p.m. at DeVault Memorial Stadium.
   The home squad urges all of the community to come out and support this year's squad, which is expected to once again be in the chase for another Appy League title.