Chris Mongiardo was part of the Lake Erie Crushers’ media day last year as Jeff Isom’s pitching coach. This year it’s his show and the first-year manager is ready to see what his team can do.
“I haven’t had any problems so far,” Mongiardo said. “I’ve been pulling double duty as the pitching coach, but I’ve had a lot of help with making out the daily schedules. The pitchers have been great to work with. I’m fired up to get this season started. After all the paperwork and phone calls, I can’t wait to get out of the office. I really don’t mind that stuff, but I’m excited to see what we can do.
“(Assistant coach) Joe (Charboneau’s) been doing a great job. He’s been great with our hitters and he’s also been helpful with our defense. The guys love him.”
Mongiardo has a few more cuts to make by 5 p.m. today to get down to the final 24-man roster for Friday’s season opener against Schaumburg at 7:05 p.m. at All Pro Freight Stadium. One player he won’t have, at least for the first seven days, is veteran infielder Andrew Davis.
Davis, entering his sixth and final season as a Crusher after joining the team in 2009, underwent a scope on his elbow a month ago and isn’t ready to play. Mongiardo will place him on the seven-day disabled list but wants to activate him as soon as possible.
“Hopefully, he gets back soon,” Mongiardo said. “He’ll definitely have to miss the first seven games. I love Andrew. He’s probably my favorite player and he’s probably the best player in the Frontier League. But, fortunately, we’ve got a lot of guys here that can play and only so many positions on the field. We’ll be fine.”
Davis loves what Mongiardo and Charboneau have brought to the team.
“Monge has been doing pretty well so far,” said Davis, who is on his third manager in the last three seasons. “I think he knows the game and he should be a good manager to play for. It’s cool to have Joe around, too. He knows what he’s talking about and he has a lot of experience to throw in the mix.
“It’s also cool talking to him, hearing how much the game has changed since he played (with the Indians in the early 1980s) and all the stories he has from back in the day.”
The elbow surgery didn’t deter Davis from returning to the Crushers for his final year. In fact, he’s hoping to catch on somewhere else next year and keep playing.
“I definitely didn’t want to quit yet,” he said. “I was gonna play again this year, whether it was here or somewhere else. And I was under contract, so I had to come back unless I was going to quit.
“But having said that, I love being here. I’d definitely love to end my Crushers playing career with another ring. It’s hard to tell, as it is every year, this early. But I do think we have a good group of guys and we should have a good chance to get back into the playoffs. Only time will tell.”
Mongiardo still has some tough decisions to make.
“For some reason, I’m having a hard time whittling down the pitching, especially with the experienced pitchers,” Mongiardo said. “A couple of guys are pitching for their jobs (today). I’m set for the first three starters — (Mickey) Jannis, (Connor) Whelan and (rookie Todd) Kibby will start the opening series. But everything else is up in the air.”
One pitcher on the bubble is Trevor Longfellow, who began last season as the Opening Day starter but was released after just four starts. He was brought back this offseason.
“I like him, but it’s going to come down to how many experienced guys I want to keep,” Mongiardo said. “I hope he throws good (today).”
Zac Treece, who the team got for Russell Moldenhauer, Brad Duffy and Jason Wilson, will handle late-game relief.
“I’ll probably go with Wilson to close to open the year, but I know Treece has had closing experience and he wants do to it,” Mongiardo said. “I feel pretty good about our back end of the pen. I’ve just got to figure out who’s more valuable in the seventh, eighth and ninth.”
With the position players, a lot of spots are still up for grabs. Only shortstop Juan Sanchez, infielder Anderson Hidalgo — who reported Sunday — outfielder Craig Hertler and infielder Vincent Mejia are set in stone.
“First base is pretty wide open,” Mongiardo said. “It’s going to come down to either rookie or experienced, and I’ve got to make sure I have the right mix of guys there. Mejia’s going to make the team one way or another, and he can move over to first. Rookies Brian Hagget and Wes Patterson are also in the mix.
“I don’t want to jinx Mejia because he came here in terrific shape and he’s not only hitting the (bleep) out of the ball, but he’s playing terrific defense. He hit real well in the Pecos League and we brought him in down the stretch last year but didn’t see a whole lot of him. He’s really shown me that what he did last year was not a fluke.”
Davis said he may be in the mix at first when he returns. He’s hoping to be available at third and shortstop this season, along with DH.
Davis also said he’s ready to add to his legacy with the Crushers.
“I would hope everyone would remember me for all the hard work and time I’ve put into my career my entire life, as well as being passionate about the game,” Davis said. “I would also hope they would remember all the time I’ve spent before and after games signing autographs and talking to fans and being around the community. I’m just ready to start this season and see what happens.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Schaumburg Boomers
WHAT: Season opener
WHEN: Friday, 7:05
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon