By ADAM SHINDER
The Amsterdam American Legion Post 701 baseball team will play its 2014 season with one of the area's most influential community sports figures close to their hearts -- literally and figuratively.
Post 701 Commander Bob Cetnar died in April, and when the team opens its season tonight in Saratoga Springs, head coach Bill Agresta said that the Post 701 uniforms will have a special patch in honor of Cetnar, who was instrumental in the team's return to play in 2013 after a four-year hiatus, and that the team has dedicated the season to his memory.
"I talked with him the night before he died," Agresta said. "We were supposed to meet up and talk about the team. It was a surprise to all of us."
Post 701's return to American Legion baseball in 2013 was a smash hit, as the team captured the New York State District 5 Junior American Legion championship after a tremendous hot streak late in the season, then came up just short of a state championship in losing the title series to Middletown Post 151.
This year, the makeup of the team is largely the same, though a couple of the players from 2013 passed the age limit for Junior American Legion baseball and Agresta's brought in some new blood to complement his returning squad.
"We lost Baylee Hall and Brandon Baker, because they aged out, but we picked up Kyle Sherlock -- who's a good pitcher -- and we picked up Cam Thomas, who was gonna play with us last year before he hurt his ACL playing basketball," he said. "We should be OK with adding them."
The 2014 squad is also vastly more experienced -- not only at the American Legion level, but for their high school teams as well. The 2013 team was made up primarily of players who had not played above junior varsity, but this year the bulk of those players -- like Amsterdam's Sherlock, Brett Flint and Bryan Stanavich and Broadalbin-Perth's Tyler Graham and Logan DeNeuville -- were everyday starters or key contributors for their high school varsity clubs.
"Most of the guys, even the guys from out of town, all played varsity this year," Agresta said.
That experience should help Post 701 as it makes a change in district for 2014. After playing in District 5 in 2013, made up of teams from the Utica area, this year Post 701 has moved into District 3 and will face Capital District foes.
The competition, Agresta said, should be formidable, but his team's experience and its pitching depth -- he has seven hurlers at his disposal -- should make it an easier transition.
"We've got a lot of kids who can throw," Agresta said. "I think our pitching is strong, and in practice the kids are hitting the ball well. (In a scrimmage) against St. Johnsville, they hit the ball well. Our defense is always solid, we've just got to score runs. If we score runs, I think we'll be fine."
And it doesn't hurt that the team won't have to make regular 90-minute trips west on the Thruway, only to have to drive right back after a rainout, as they did a season ago.
"Our furthest drive is going to be Coxsackie for one game, and we've got Cobleskill," Agresta said. "But, most are Albany, Saratoga ... it won't be driving to Utica, getting rained out and having to come home."
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