Summer road trip
Gene Taylor's baseball team only has four home games
Caden Woods. Kyle Serrano. Owen Taylor. Walker Williams.
The Gene Taylor’s American Legion baseball team is a collection of all-star talent from the Grand Valley worth watching. It just won’t be often you’ll get to see it in Grand Junction.
Gene Taylor’s, the defending Colorado state champion, has a mere four home games on its schedule at the moment — doubleheaders June 20 and June 25 at Canyon View Park. Otherwise, this team ought to enlist Mad Max to be its mascot, because these players are going to be road warriors this summer.
Manager Dave Jahnke said he’s trying to add four more home games, but that remains to be determined.
What he’s collected for talent this summer is impressive, stocking his 16-player lineup with a bevy of first- and second-team all-league players from Central, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Palisade high schools. Grand Junction and Palisade lead the way with five players apiece on the roster.
Jahnke has five returning players, and he expects this group will be able to hit.
“I think we’re going to be a very good line-drive hitting team,” he said.
On the mound, he said Gene Taylor’s has a good 1-2 punch with Josh Moore and Noah Sanchez, and he expects to use Williams in a role similar to last summer, when Williams might close an early game in a tournament or series and start a later game. Williams played for Lamar Community College this spring but is young enough to qualify for legion ball. Brett Labonte is another 2012 grad young enough to return to the team.
Also back from last year are Moore, Taylor and Tristan Lafferty, all with ties to Grand Junction High.
The Palisade contingent comes off a season in which the Bulldogs went unbeaten in winning the Class 4A Western Slope League. Chief among them is Woods, a senior catcher who was selected the player of the year in the 4A WSL and batted .591 to lead a team that hit .409, and he ripped 13 extra-base hits and drove in a team-high 33 runs.
Rivaling those numbers is fellow catcher Serrano, who ravaged Southwestern League pitchers and posted overall numbers of a .556 average, five home runs among 18 extra-base hits, and a team-high 22 RBI for Central.
Meanwhile, Taylor led Grand Junction with a .483 average, four home runs among 12 extra-base hits, and 31 RBI.
A big difference in this summer’s talent versus last summer’s state-title-winning crew is youth. Gene Taylor’s has 11 newcomers, and many of them still have at least one more year of high school to go.
A year ago, Jahnke said, he had mostly returning players who had good skill sets and were versed in the Gene Taylor’s approach.
“They were a group you needed to fine-tune them,” he said.
This summer will involve more teaching, Jahnke said, adding it’s cliche but true when he says the younger players will be learning and developing game to game.
Most of that development will be done on the road, beginning today when Gene Taylor’s opens its season in Denver, where it is scheduled to play five games in four days, then two games on June 10 in Longmont.
Soon after will come an annual tournament in Pueblo that Gene Taylor’s plays in each year, and new to the tournament slate this season will be trips to Garden City, Kan., to play in the Jim Clanton Memorial tourney, and six days and six games in the Pacific Northwest for the Baden Northwest Invite in Seattle.
Jahnke said of the latter it will feature many players who will be going on to play at Pacific 12 Conference universities.
“It’s a long trip, but we’re going to do it,” Jahnke said.
He hopes to have a postseason-ready crew come July 31 and the start of the Colorado Legion A State Tournament in Boulder.
“We have the same goal as last year,” Jahnke said. “Our No. 1 goal is to win the state championship, and we’re going to have to work hard to try to do it again.”
Even before then, Gene Taylor’s is wearing a target on its back this season, Jahnke said, adding other teams will bring their best against his club, and that’s a welcome challenge.