Players greet each other in the pavilion after arriving at the Shirley Povich field on Friday. (Photo by Ellie Cross)
Players arrived at Shirley Povich Field on Friday, picking up uniforms and gear before a team meeting and quick bullpen and batting cage session. The excitement was palpable, as teammates met, many for the first time, and got to see their home stadium.
With 10 players from schools in California and six from Florida, the team is shaping up to be a diverse mix of players from across the country. Locals include returning players Fox Semones (James Madison) and Cam Vassar (James Madison), and fellow Dukes pitcher Anthony Piccolino. Infielder Semones had an outstanding season with James Madison, leading the team in home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.469). Vassar only made two appearances for the Dukes this season, giving up one run in ⅔ innings. Piccolino didn’t play this spring.
Right-hander Chris Clarke (University of Southern California) chose to spend the summer with the Big Train because he had heard great things about the club. For the rising junior, his focus is on developing his pitching and having fun with the team. Clarke struck out 45 in 57 ⅔ innings pitched this season with the Trojans.
For freshman catcher Carson Taylor (Virginia Tech), this summer offers him a chance to get used to the pace of a collegiate baseball game. Taylor played for Greater Atlanta Christian School for four years, holding the school record for RBIs (51). During that time he was also named All-County at both catcher and third base.
Outfielder Justin Wylie (University of Arizona) is excited to get to know his fellow teammates. “I’ve always heard that Big Train produces a lot of great talent, and the coaches are awesome here” said Wylie. “I’m really excited to get to know the guys and the coaches and have a really great time out here.” Wylie transferred to Arizona from San Diego State this year, but did not play this season with the Wildcats. Fellow Wildcat Quinn Flanagan (University of Arizona) wants to spend the summer working back from an arm injury that kept him sidelined for the last two years of high school and his first year with Arizona.
Left-hander Tuck Tucker (University of Maryland) played two years with New Mexico Junior College before transferring to Maryland for this coming year. With New Mexico this season he recorded 49 strikeouts in 39 ⅓ innings, ending the season with a 4.58 ERA.
The past two seasons the Big Train has won the Cal Ripken College Baseball League Championship. This year, they’ll look to secure the three-peat. “Any time you come out here you want to win,” said head coach Sal Colangelo “You want to be competitive, you want to get better. Our goal is to win the division and then get into the playoffs, and we match ourselves up with whoever [will] put us in a good situation to win the league again.” After only one afternoon of practice, Colangelo is already liking what he’s seeing in his players. “We have some really good arms [on] both sides,” he said. “I think we have a lot of depth in the pitching staff, and Coach [Bill] Sizemore is going to do a lot with them.” The Big Train play two exhibition games before the start of the season, taking on the Gaithersburg Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday, then facing the BCC Little Train on Sunday at 7 p.m. Both games will be at the Shirley Povich Field. Admission to the two exhibition games is free.