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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rivier baseball getting Double-A experience in Manchester

The Rivier College baseball program has had its share of struggles in the last year or so, failing to win a game in the 2009 season.

But that didn’t stop Raiders coach Rob Ciarlo from grinning when he added some stiff competition to the 2010 schedule.

Such as, say – the Double-A New Hamsphire Fisher Cats.

Yes, indeed, the Raiders will face a serious upgrade on April 6, when they take on the Fisher Cats in a seven-inning exhibition game at Manchester’s Stadium.

The Fisher Cats made the first move, Ciarlo said, with a phone call in January.

“They called looking into some promotional things and this is what we wanted to do,” Ciarlo said. “That was one of the things that came up in the conversation. I said ‘Absolutely, can we play today?’ ”

The game serves as a northern tune-up for the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, which opens its Eastern League season on April 8 at New Britain.

Tied to the exhibition game in Manchester is a Yankees-Red Sox (they play that night) promotional event in the stadium’s restaurant.

“We’re excited to introduce the 2010 Fisher Cats to our fans with this exhibition game and to give the Rivier College baseball team an unbelievable chance to play at ( Stadium) against future Major Leaguers,” Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner said in a prepared statement.

The Raiders, meanwhile, ended their long 29-game winless streak the other day with a doubleheader split with Massachusetts Maritime, as they had gone since the spring of 2008 without a victory. So things are looking up for the program, and this exposure, Ciarlo feels, just helps it. The game is secondary.

“That’s peripheral, “ he said. “Nothing to do with the game, it’s an opportunity to play on that field, be in the dugouts, the clubhouse, meet their players.”

“I think it’s the idea of the opportunity to play in that park,” Rivier athletic director Joanne Merrill said. “We’re still really on the rebounding, rebuilding stage of our program. … It’s a great opportunity for us, I think we’re looking at it as the same way when (Boston College) plays the Red Sox.

“Our players need to have the right mindset that it’s an experience for them.”

Ciarlo agrees, knowing the wide disparity in ability, he wants his players to have the right frame of mind.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s been the biggest discussion we’ve had. It’s not going to be a 6-5 or 9-5 ball game. These guys (Fisher Cats) are two steps away from the Major Leagues. … The great opportunity is in the chance to face that kind of pitching, and we’ve talked to our pitches about just throwing strikes. That’s the attitude we’re going in with.”

Of course, the added benefit is in the recruiting process. The Raiders found the cupboard bare after a banner 2008 season and without an on-campus baseball diamond to call their own, a promotional event like this can only help.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Ciarlo said. “I hope we can put something together, make it a recurring event that will show our kids that we’re committed and moving forward.”

Perhaps it could become an annual event.

“I’d like to see how it goes,” Merrill said. “All kinds of things can either work in your favor or not. April 6 could be snowy and 35 degrees or it could be like this (past) weekend. It’s up to us to get our team ready for the reality of what this is. It’s an opportunity, and that’s how they have to look at it. It should be fun.”