Mavs boost talent, seek better year

They open their second season tonight hoping to improve upon last year’s struggles.
Friday, May 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:34 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bill Clark, the Mid-Missouri Mavericks director of player procurement, set one goal when he started assembling this summer’s team.

“What I’d like to have here is a staff of pitchers and position players that can play at the Single A level,” Clark said.

If Clark comes close to achieving that goal, the Mavericks, who open the regular season today against the Springfield/Ozark Ducks in Springfield, Mo., should be vastly improved from their inaugural season in Columbia.

Last season, the Mavericks finished 33-57 and last in the independent Frontier League West Division. The reasons for the struggles were numerous. The Mavericks finished last in the league in batting average (.251) and last in ERA (4.94).

Mid-Missouri was first, though, in managers. The Mavericks went through three; Tony Torchia was fired in July, Papo Davila resigned for health reasons in August and Mark Schlosser finished the season.

“If you go through three managers, I don’t know anybody who’s ever experienced that,” said outfielder Wes Fewell, a Hickman and University of Missouri graduate. “It kind of changes the attitudes of every player. Everyone just gets sloppy.”

During the offseason, the Mavericks brought in former major leaguer Jack Clark to instill a positive attitude. To a man, the Mavericks agree Clark, a four-time All-Star who played on St. Louis Cardinals’ pennant winning teams in 1985 and 1987, has made a drastic difference.

Clark played in the majors from 1975-92. He also has major league coaching experience as Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach from 2000 until he was fired in August.

“He’s brought a lot of intensity,” said first baseman/outfielder Blake Blase, another Hickman graduate. “Everything is structured. Everything is on a time schedule. He likes us hustling. He wants us to go out and have fun and play hard for him.”

Clark, who managed the Frontier League’s River City Rascals in 1999, said the Mavericks have the talent to be successful. His lineup should be more potent than last season, with several hitters with the speed to play hit-and-run and the power to knock the ball out of the park.

Outfielder Derrick Peoples and Fewell hit home runs in Mid-Missouri’s 13-8 exhibition win Saturday. Designated hitter Ben Piatt had three RBIs in the game, and catcher John Oehler and infielder Frank Scott Jr. had two.

Blase hit 10 home runs last season. Fewell hit .252, but better than .300 once he found a regular spot in the starting lineup after the All-Star break. Infielder Cooper Vittitow hit .269 with the Mavs and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts, earning a trip to the All-Star Game. His 64 runs scored were fourth in the league.

“I’d like to see some balls fly over the fence,” Clark said. “Some gap balls. I’m trying to get some big guys who can run and we’ve got some.”

The pitching could also be improved. Mid-Missouri added reliever Anthony Kozol, who tied for the Frontier League lead with 16 saves last season. Jason Elkins, another reliever, struck out 57 hitters in 38 innings last season for Washington. Reliever Brian Dorsey had a 2.57 ERA for the Gulf Coast Phillies of the Rookie League.

“Given what we’ve seen so far I’m very optimistic,” Mavs President Gary Wendt said. “It’s a difference of night and day around here.”

That difference comes from a variety of sources, Wendt said. Bill Clark assembled a roster Wendt said will be competitive and could challenge for a playoff spot. Doug White, a coach in the Montreal Expos organization last season, has helped solidify the pitching. Pete LaCock, who played eight seasons as a first baseman in the majors, has provided an experienced voice as bench coach.

Perhaps most of all there is Jack Clark’s knowledge.

“I certainly expect to be a competitive baseball team this year,” Wendt said. “Last year we were not a competitive baseball team. But Jack and his staff have instilled a whole new attitude.”

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