Sports

Kitsap BlueJackets begin ’06 campaign

This opener won’t be a gimme.

While some would think of the Kitsap BlueJackets’ opening-day opponent — their feeder squad the Tacoma Cardinals — as a team of mere underlings to those on the Jackets, early-season results have indicated quite the opposite.

And BlueJackets coach Matt Acker said anyone who doesn’t think so will be in for quite a surprise at tomorrow’s opener.

“The Cardinals are not out-matched,” Acker said, citing the first three games of Tacoma’s season, which started with a 9-2 loss to the Skagit Eagles of the Pacific International League and a close 2-1 loss and 7-6 10-inning loss to the Seattle Studs, also of the PIL.

“They can play with them,” Acker said. And they don’t have their whole team yet.”

The Cardinals, established as a feeder team for the BlueJackets, will give at least four players the opportunity to earn a spot on the Kitsap club. The BlueJackets have left four roster spots open that must be filled by July 18.

And for that reason, the BlueJackets’ opener against Tacoma will be anything but lopsided.

“We’re definitely excited,” Acker said. “We’ve got a couple days to come in together. We came in (Sunday) and kind of got a sneak preview. It’s a more talented group, I can tell you already.”

With returners Brian Burmester, Kyle Cline, Kyle Howe (of North Kitsap High School) and Mike Tachell (from Gig Harbor) as the club’s only returning players from a team that finished 15-28 overall, 12-24 in West Coast Collegiate baseball League play, the BlueJackets are poised to enjoy the same kind of success the team saw off the field last year.

“The kids coming back are really excited about the league,” Acker said. “Tachell and Burmester love this league.”

The Cardinals’ roster includes former BlueJackets J.T. Heaton and Adam Siler. Siler is a senior at St. Martin’s and a graduate of South Kitsap High School.

Former SK product and Olympic College Ranger Josh Meeker is also on the squad. he’ll be joined by Ranger teammate Seth Foley.

Olympic High grad Shea Baumgartner is also a Cardinal.

Among new additions who figure to boost the BlueJackets are Central Washington University’s Jamie Nilsen (from Auburn), a .372 hitter with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 51 games this season. Nilsen also was ninth in the WCCBL last year, batting .321 for the Wenatchee Applesox.

Kevin Corrigan, an infielder from Kent attending Western Oregon University, hit .365 with nine homers with 45 RBI in 55 games. They’re at the forefront of a BlueJackets makeover that should see more team speed, more team power and hopefully, more wins.

“Our team speed has increased dramatically,” Acker said. “Our overall power, (last year)’s not even close. We’re very excited about it. Kind of an upgrade.”

Last season, Acker said the BlueJackets were scrambling to put together a lineup. This season, the team has been able to play to the strengths of the league, ballpark and most importantly, itself.

As a result, Acker said the starting positions will work themselves out, with platoon situations in the outfield, infield and behind the plate to start, with starters hopefully emerging from the logjam.

“It’ll make everyone earn their spots,” Acker said. “Last year, we were trying to get a full roster and put the team together. But we were in a different situation then we are now.”

For example, last season the squad went with an abundance of starters, alternating them between starting shifts and bullpen duties. This year, he said those roles will be more defined. But that’s not the only pitching change.

“We just have more overall velocity,” Acker said. “And more experience. Tachell gained a lot of experience last year.”

The WCCBL will also have a new look this year, with a new Moses Lake franchise added during the offseason. On July 11, the league hosts its first all-star game in Wenatchee.

As for team leadership, Acker said Kitsap will lean on Burmester, who hit .283 with 13 RBI for the Jackets last season.

“Burmester is going to be our leader,” Acker said of the Olympia native. “It’s always important to have a strong leadership and experience level. To have someone like Burmester as that guy is important. He’s not only a good kid and a good person, but he’s got a lot of positive traits going for him.”

In addition to the 7 p.m. contest against the Cardinals, the BlueJackets will also host Rear Adm. Bill French and the Navy band and may have Navy jets flying over for the opener, sponsored by KPS Health Plans. The fly over depends on the availability of the jets due to the war effort.

Tickets for the opener and all BlueJackets home games are available at (360) 479-0123. The team will also honor former BlueJacket and Major Leaguer Joe Sullivan and his family.

More information about the BlueJackets and Cardinals is available at www.kitsapbluejackets.com. More information about the league is available at www.wccbl.com.

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