Play ball!

Short on experience, the Fraser Valley Chiefs have set a modest goal for this season.

The B.C. Premier Baseball League team has just five players who played in the elite 18-and-under league last season, and is hoping to ride a young but inexperienced pitching staff to a winning season.

“If we’re a few games over .500, I’ll be happy,” said Chiefs manager Dennis Springenatic. “If we can get a top five finish, it will be a good year.

“We’re young. But we have a lot of depth and a lot of pitching. We only have three returning players, and two transfers from other teams.”

The Chiefs finished with a 20-30 mark a year ago, and placed eighth in the 11-team league. They start the 2008 campaign Saturday, hosting the Langley Blaze for two games Saturday at Queen’s Park Stadium. The first game gets under way at noon.

The North Delta Blue Jays are also in action on the opening weekend of the PBL season. After visiting the White Rock Tritons for a double header Saturday in South Surrey, they host the Coquitlam Reds Sunday at Mackie Park, with game times set for noon and 2:30 p.m.

Among the three returnees to the Chiefs is outfielder Austin Voros (cousin of NHLer Aaron of the Minnesota Wild), who has accepted a scholarship offer to join El-Paso Community College in the fall, as well as catcher Will Thorp and infielder James Zamko.

All three Surrey residents had roughly the same batting average. Thorp hit .232 in 2007, followed by Zamko (.230) and Voros (.229).

Infielder Barrie Chesterman has come over from the Langley Blaze, after hitting .260 and driving in 11 runs a year ago in 79 plate appearances.

Voros and Chesterman will hit from the middle of the order, and will be expected to provide power at the plate. Cloverdale’s Robbie Gallaugher, who Springenatic calls one of the quickest baserunners in the league, will bat leadoff.

“Our hitting might be weak, but we’ll be in most games,” said Springenatic. “We have two of the best catchers. Thorp throws very well from behind the plate, and (Fraser Heights Secondary School student Curtis) Davis has a good arm as well. Our outfield will be strong, but the infield might be a little weaker.”

Rounding out the five PBL veterans on the Chiefs roster is right-handed pitcher Allan Rimer, who joins the team after spending last season with the White Rock Tritons.

Rimer will anchor the deep pitching staff, but will also be the only veteran hurler on the squad. Four grade 10s will also get time on the hill, including Brian Wearing, Chris Fischer, Sean Callegari and Scott Boatter.

“We’re rebuilding all around, especially on the mound,” said Springenatic, who will turn to veteran PBL coach Dave Empey to instruct the hurlers. Empey, a Port Moody native, coached Ryan Dempster at the 18-and-under level before the Sechelt native and current Chicago Cub went on to a Major League Baseball career.

The Chiefs got several strong pitching performances at a preseason jamboree in Langley late last month, where the Fraser Valley squad didn’t allow a run in four games. Callegari and Wearing combined for a three-hitter in a scoreless tie against the Tritons, while Boatter and Seaquam Secondary’s Chris Brien no-hit the North Delta Blue Jays in a 4-0 victory.

Rimer pitched all six innings in a 6-0 win over White Rock, allowing one hit while striking out 10 Tritons. The Chiefs closed out the jamboree with another no-hitter, shared by starter Chesterman and reliever Adam Masse.

- The Blue Jays, hoping to better last season’s 16-34 record, boast seven pitchers among the 11 returning players on their 2008 roster.

Anthony Kops led the contingent of returnees in innings pitched a year ago with 49 and two-thirds, posting a 1.83 earned run average (ERA). Other pitchers back with the Jays are Mark Deeg (0.97 ERA), Jonathan Winick (2.02 ERA), Kurtis Parsons (2.21 ERA and 24 strikeouts), Kane Keating, Bart Kitson and Dylan Tait.

Winick, who can also play the outfield, had the highest batting average among returnees with a .237 mark.

Other returning players in the North Delta lineup are outfielder McKenzie Dalgleish (.200 batting average), middle infielder Christian Alvarez de Araya, and catchers Colton Mace and Stefan McKee.

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