MANSFIELD — The Mansfield Destroyers baseball team hasn’t taken the field in nearly two years, 683 days to be exact, and the team is ready to not only compete during the 2021 season but contend for a New York College Baseball League Title as well.
The level of excitement for the group as at an all-time high, and after a year’s layoff, everyone is ready to get back to playing baseball this summer.
“I don’t even think you can use the word excitement, because I think it has to be more than excitement,” Destroyer’s owner Don Lewis said. “That’s what we feel right now, we tried four or five options last year until the very end of everything. We tried everything in our power to make sure we got a season, and unfortunately, with a pandemic, it just didn’t work out so we are just beyond excited for this year.”
With everyone geared up and ready to go, the excitement is even bigger with a strong roster of players who are looking to finish on top of the NYCBL in the 2021 season.
“I expect that we win the whole league,” Mansfield Destroyers Head Coach Hilliard said. “I’m just excited because of the huge layoff, but we are ready to get going. Sadly, Coach Hill is not going to be here with us, but I expect to win this year.”
The Destroyers will have a tough road ahead of them, with just four players returning to the roster from their playoff run in 2019 that saw them make it to the Quarterfinals, but the ownership and coaching staff of the team feel as though that behind strong pitching and a talented recruiting class, they will be one of the best teams in the league.
“We wanted to bring in a winning team this season, which is something we have the capability of doing,” Lewis said. “We want to bring a championship to the area.”
Both Lewis and Hilliard have touted their pitching staff to be the key to their success this season, and returner Kyle Smith is expected to be the ace of the unit and is returning to the mound after a strong showing during the 2019 season.
During his last stint with the Destroyers, he compiled a 5-2 record in the regular season and playoffs and held a 3.09 ERA during the 4-1 record in the regular season.
With Smith being one of the only returners to Mansfield this season, he is expected to be a leader on the team.
“Kyle Smith is going to be a standout in the whole league,” Hilliard said. He was one of the better pitchers that last year, so I expect him to dominate this season.”
He is one of three returning pitchers for the Destroyers, with Mason Vaughn and Connor Hong both returning for the 2021 season.
“I think they’re going to lead our team to a lot of wins,” Hilliard commented on the returning players. “They’re great kids. They’re having successful years of college and I hope that will carry over and they will be the ones to lead our team.”
Vaughn finished the season 3-1 while Hong went 1-0 and is part of a deep pitching rotation that has added even more firepower heading into the year.
Lewis believes that in all of his years of ownership, that this may be the best pitching staff he has ever assembled during that time.
“This staff is one of the strongest pitching staffs I’ve ever had owning a baseball team in the past 12 years,” Lewis said. “We’ve had some very talented players come through that were drafted to Major League Baseball and played with the Yankees and with Baltimore.”
The goals are high for the Destroyers staff on the mound, and Hilliard has some high expectations of the group coming into the year.
According to Hilliard, he believes his staff, as a group, can post a sub-three ERA for the entire year and if they can accomplish it, can compete for the championship this season.
The batting is a bit of a mystery up to this point, with practically no returners on the roster from their previous season, so it will be up to the defense and pitching to keep them rolling this season.
One other player to watch this season is catcher John Wheeler, who is touted by his coaches as one of the hardest-working players in all of college baseball.
“He works nonstop,” Hilliard said of the work ethic of Wheeler. “He’s always here at the baseball field even when we’re gone. He’s just still here. He will help our pitching staff tremendously this season.”
The Destroyers opened up their season with an exhibition win over Batavia by a score of 13-3 on Monday, June 7 while in their regular-season opener on Tuesday, June 8 fell to the Rochester Ridgemen to start the 2021 season 0-1.
The highly anticipated pitching staff for Mansfield delivered on their preseason hype in their first exhibition but struggled against Rochester where they allowed eight runs.
Their next contest was at home on Wednesday, June 10 as they hosted the Cornell Dodgers at 5:20 p.m.