Sports

Jackets ready to revamp

It’s no secret that the Kitsap BlueJackets struggled at times in their inaugural season.

First off, it was a first-year team in a brand new league playing established teams with track records.

Secondly, the club got a late start to recruiting, with the process not really taking place until the end of October.

“That was the thing,” BlueJackets head coach Matt Acker said. “We didn’t start signing last year until the end of October. It’s going to be a world of difference. Our kids competed in this league no question. But winning series and stuff was tough to do when other teams were so powerful.”

But with a year of experience now under the belt, Acker said it’s time to build and grow.

“It was a good experience, a good season for everybody,” Acker said. “We learned a lot as a coaching staff and as an organization in general. We know what we need to do to compete at the highest level. That’s what everyone wants to do.”

The process has already begun, with a small regiment of Jackets remaining on next season’s squad.

Pitchers Kyle Cline, Mike Tachell, Nick Bowers, Adam Balcom and infielder Brian Burmester will return for another run.

And while more of the squad’s players wanted to come back, Acker said he sees what the club needs to do to capitalize on its now-established identity.

That all begins with a search for more speed.

“We’ve got to look for a certain kind of hitter,” he said. “We need speed. We had some guys with power but our park doesn’t show it. Now we know we need blazing speed.”

In terms of recruiting, which Acker said he hopes to have finished come signing time at the beginning of September, he’s already made contact with some of the nations top programs about players, including Oregon State University, Washington State University, the University of California-Riverside, the University of Hawaii and the University of Nevada.

“I’m excited about some of the kids we’ll get back and some we’re bringing in,” he said.

Another advantage to the Jackets’ recruiting plan is the fact that most teams look for the power hitters right off the bat, Acker said.

“A lot of teams want those kids,” he said. “They’re looking for those guys with power. We’re looking for team speed.”

He said that should allow the team to get most of the players it wants without too much competition. He also said the team will look for arms to build around its returning pitching core.

“Pitching-wise, we’ll return those pitchers,” Acker said. “Now we’re looking for five top pitchers to compliment them.”

While calling various coaches to inquire about specific players, Acker said the BlueJacket name has become more familiar in the baseball world.

“Word has gotten out about us,” Acker said. “As we’re calling schools, coaches are telling us they’ve heard about the program. We’re excited. We’ve gotten some great feedback.”

Getting that reputation early, along with the throng of community support the team received, could prove invaluable for the Jackets, who are finding that kids are wanting to come play for the team.

“I think it definitely helps. It makes it exciting for the kids to want to come play here,” he said. “It’s a big deal to a lot of kids.”

Acker said the community support was exceptional, a sentiment that BlueJackets co-owner Rick Smith echoed.

“It’s very satisfying to hear how much fans that come to the ballpark enjoyed it,” Smith said.

“The community was outstanding,” Acker said. “They did a great job and were very supportive. It was a fun place to play.”

Other intriguing developments also could lend to the expansion of the program and possibly the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League as a whole.

“What we’re going to do, it’s in the prestages, is start a city league in Tacoma,” he said. “It won’t take away from baseball with us at all. It’ll make things better.”

Starting this coming season, Acker said he wants to create a Tacoma city league, similar to the Portland City League that acts as a feeder system for Oregon teams.

And while it will start small, likely with just one team, Acker said he’d like to it grow into a thriving league of its own.

“Then we have a future class all the time,” he added. “Recruiting becomes easier, the baseball becomes better and the league gets stronger.”

In the summer league, Green River Community College, which Acker also coaches, and Olympic College would form a team. A prospective second team would combine athletes from Tacoma Community College, Pierce College and Centralia College.

Acker said OC coach Mike Reese has already agreed to form the first team, and added that Pierce College is aboard as well.

The teams would play WCCBL squads and eventually, other members of the prospective Tacoma league.

Expansion of the WCCBL itself has also been mentioned this offseason. Walla Walla, Moses Lake, Kent, Olympia and Longview are among the names that been mentioned as possible team sites, Acker said.

“There’s been talk of expanding the league. That’s kind of the BlueJacket attitude is we want this league to succeed,” Acker said. “These are places that could be great for our league.”

Changes to the coaching staff will also be visible.

Joe Dominick, head coach at Saint Martin’s University, will join the team, meaning the departure of Jackets’ Adam Siler and Nate Baker under collegiate rules prohibiting the players from playing under their coach in the collegiate offseason.

“I used to coach under Joe. Our coaching styles compliment each other,” Acker said. “He’s more quiet whereas I’m all over.”

Also, David Baker, one of Kitsap’s regular catchers this season, will return to the team as the bullpen coach.

“He’s already asked to be the bullpen coach. It’s a great way for him to get his feet wet as a coach at this level,” Acker said.

Acker said the squad will likely only fill 22 of its 28 roster spot allocations initially, leaving room for the city league players to earn spots.

“It gives those kids on those teams who are working their butts off the opportunity to get to the BlueJackets,” he said. “We want to leave that door open to community college kids.

“If we have roster spots open, the kids say, ‘I want to be one of those guys.’”

All in all, Acker said he looks forward to seeing what the team will look like in a month or two.

“As long as we have hard-working kids in here, it’ll be easy,” he said. “We have a pretty

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