GLENDALE — At a glance, the evening practices that have occupied Stengel Field recently resemble any other that typically take place on the venerable field, which is home to high school and junior college baseball contests throughout the year.
But to the ear, it's quickly clear that something different is afoot.
As the Glendale Angelenos take batting practice, the crisp, satisfying crack of wood bat meeting rawhide echoes around the yard — replacing the shrill ping of aluminum — a sure sign that California Collegiate League baseball, as promised, has arrived in the region.
"I feel like we're going to have a hot start and it's going to be a pretty fun summer," said Ellis Whitman, first baseman of the Angelenos, who opened their season earlier this week.
Whitman is one of 11 members of the Glendale Community College baseball team on the Angelenos roster, which includes players from the University of Arkansas, USC, New Mexico Highlands, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Los Angeles, along with various other junior college programs from around the state.
"I think we have good team, we have a lot of good pitchers, a lot of good infielders," said catcher Chad Nacapoy, a Crescenta Valley High graduate from Cal State L.A. "I'm just real excited, I think we're going to do really good. We have good competition in the CCL, so I think we're going to be able to hang with the other teams."
For its inaugural season in the CCL, one of the premiere collegiate summer leagues in the nation, Glendale will compete with seven other teams — the San Luis Obispo Blues, the Conejo Oaks, the Orange County Pioneers, Team Vegas, the MLB Academy Barons and the defending league champion Santa Barbara Foresters, who visit Stengel o Wednesday.
"I've heard a lot about the competition, how it's a really prestigious league and I'm really excited to play," said Angelenos right-handed pitcher Sean Wardour, who is from SUDH.
The Angelenos' starting pitching rotation will consist of left-handers Randall Fant (Arkansas) and Ryan Sheriff (GCC) and righties Drew Muren (CSUN) and Greg Fowler (New Mexico Highlands). Several candidates, including right-handers Thomas Korn (GCC) and Usui Kamakane (CSULA) and lefty Nick Rodarte (CSULA), competing for the remaining two spots.
"We'll have a six-man rotation and our starters will probably go no more than five innings every start," Angelenos team president and veteran coach Tony Riviera said. "That keeps their innings down, keeps them healthy, they get their work in and you'll see a large rotation of bullpen guys because I don't like to give teams the time to adjust.
"Really, it's going to come down to the composure and it's a little bit different when you're dealing with wood bats. When you're playing college ball with metal bats, those metal bats can fool a lot of people. Now it's a level playing field and it's truly a pitcher's game. You want to make sure that whatever pitcher you have on the mound understands that it's time to deal inside and try to break as many wood bats as possible."
Left-hander Nick Plantz (CSUDH) and right-handers Michael Robinson (L.A. Harbor), Michael Noteware (GCC), Greg Astor (GCC) and Wardour figure to get the bulk of the workload out of the pen, although Riviera promises to use his entire relief staff liberally in order to keep arms fresh for the long haul of the CCL season, as well as for the players' 2011-12 collegiate seasons.
"What I saw when we threw bullpens was a lot of guys who have a lot of talent and a lot of guys who throw pretty hard — good breaking balls, good changeups and all that," Wardour said. "I would rather pitch against wood bats because it lets you utilize the inside of the plate more."
Offensively, Rivera said he made it his goal to build a team with speed and power up and down the lineup.
Shortstops Niko Garcia (L.A. Mission) and Ricky Vasquez (CSUDH) are candidates to bat leadoff, Whitman figures to slot into the No. 2 hole and the catcher, whether it's Nacapoy, Derek Goodwin (Sacramento State) or Jonathan Keener (CSUDH), will typically bat third. Riviera will look to third baseman Sako Chapjian (GCC), outfielder Alex Muren (CSUN) and one of the aforementioned catchers at DH in the heart of the order to provide run production. Second baseman Julian Barzilli (Santa Ana) and outfielder Erik Scott (New Mexico Highlands) also figure to see a lot of playing time.
"Every guy in our lineup has the ability to hit home runs and every one of these guys have a very solid ability to steal bases," Riviera said. "One through nine there isn't a person not capable of hitting and not a person not capable of putting up some stolen base numbers.
"We're going to play very aggressive baseball and let people know that you're not going to sit on your heels because we're not going to let that happen. …I think we can compete with anyone on any given day."
"It's good to come play at my high school field again," Nacopoy said. "It looks a little different than it did when I graduated, but it's always nice to play at home."
"We're jelling pretty good so far," Nacapoy said. "I think we just have that good team camaraderie and we will only get better from there."
Another highlight of the Angelenos' regular season schedule, which runs through Aug. 2, will be the CCL All-Star game, which will be played at Stengel Field at 6:30 p.m. July 13.