Beetles hope to build off historic season

The Alexandria Beetles are coming off their best season in franchise history and hope to build off that as they open up the 2012 summer at home against Thunder Bay tonight with a 7:05 first pitch.

A total of 21 Beetles players were at the team’s first official practice on Tuesday night. Seventeen more guys are still playing in the postseason for their respective colleges and two are waiting to hear where they might end up going in the MLB draft next week. That is a testament to the kind of talent long-time assistant and first-year head coach Drew Saberhagen believes this team has assembled this summer.

Photo by Eric Morken/Echo Press: Beetles' head coach Drew Saberhagen hit fielding practice for his team during Alexandria's first practice on Tuesday night.

“That just says something, hopefully to the talent we’re bringing in,” Saberhagen said. “We’re bringing in guys who are playing pretty big roles on World Series teams and regional teams.”

At the top of that talent are eight or nine returning guys who Saberhagen expects to make big contributions again this summer. Michael Reed is one of those returning players. The righthander from LSU will get the start in the season opener against the Border Cats tonight.

Reed started 11 games for the Beetles in 2011 and went 5-2 with a 4.08 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched. His goal this year is the same as last year – build on a team-first approach that made for a memorable second half of the season in 2011.

“It was fun last year because it was just such a good group of guys,” Reed said. “All the guys were in it for the same goal. You could tell that the common drive, it wasn’t reach your own successful goals, it was reach the team goals. That was going as far as we could, and that’s what was fun about it. Everybody was in it for the same thing. Other guys were putting in just as much effort as you were, and you wanted to do good for those guys, not so much yourself.”

Saberhagen said he feels the same kind of vibe with the group he’s assembled this summer. The 44 wins this team had and its record-setting 28-11 record in the second half is still fresh on the minds of many of the guys who were a part of it. Having the guys back who remember what that run felt like can only help heading into a new season.

“Anytime you can have a guy who’s gone through the grind of the Northwoods League, it really helps the other guys,” Saberhagen said. “Just seeing their faces for the first time today, they’re ready to go. I know it’s only the first practice, but this reminds me of the team last year that really wanted to get after it and really cared about winning. I’m looking forward to it.”

Waiting to hear from the draft

Two guys who weren’t with the team yet and maybe won’t be all summer were Eastern Kentucky’s Anthony Bazzani and Eastern Michigan’s Steve Weber as both players wait to see if and where they are taken in next week’s MLB draft.

This comes as no surprise to fans who watched Bazzani tear through the Northwoods League last summer with the Beetles. The right-handed closer was one of the more dominant relievers in the league, finishing with a 1.45 ERA through the regular season with 70 strikeouts in just 49 2/3 innings.

Bazzani thrived in his role coming out of the bullpen after struggling as a starter early in his sophomore season at Eastern Kentucky. He consistently touched 95 MPH on his fastball in Alexandria last summer. That success translated to a much more successful junior season at EKU this past spring as he finished with a 3.40 ERA in 42 1/3 innings.

“Obviously I want him up here,” Saberhagen said. “But I hope we don’t see him because he’s the kind of kid you really root for. He had such a major impact on the team last year. I know the returning guys are like, ‘Man, Bazzani’s got to come back.’ He’s a guy who had such a big influence on the guys that were here.”

The MLB draft starts next Monday, June 4, and wraps up on Wednesday.