By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker baseball coach Alan McCauley has retooled his ball team but still has hopes that the Bulldogs can repeat as the Greater Oregon League champions.
Baker and Grant Union tied for the GOL regular-season crown last year with 12-2 records. The Bulldogs then defeated Grant Union 8-4 in a playoff game to earn the leagues top seed in the Class 3A state playoffs.
In the state tournament, Baker drew a first-round bye, then defeated Sherwood 11-1 in the second round. But the Bulldogs season ended in the quarterfinals with a loss at Glide. Baker finished last season with a 23-6 record.
Gone to graduation from that team are all-league performers Casey Grove, Buck Pearce, Joel Anderson, Joe Blatchford, Jesse Justus and Orrin Bigelow.
But McCauley, who with Kevin Feist of Burns was co-coach of the year in the GOL, has some horses remaining.
I think were young, McCauley said. We lost a great group of players last year. But these kids in this group have played a lot together.
McCauley and assistant coach Gary Shermer noted that many of the current Bulldogs were teammates on the Baker County Diamondbacks America Legion team last summer.
Leading this years Baker mound staff is first-team all-GOL pick Luke Palmer, a senior. He was 5-1 with a 2.28 earned-run average a year ago.
Joining Palmer on the staff will be senior Steve Valentine, junior Wes Cooke and junior Bjorn Boyer. Valentine and Cooke saw some mound duty at both the varsity and junior varsity levels last season.
I think well field a pretty solid pitching staff, and well swing the bats well, McCauley said.
The kids have come out with a great attitutde, and have been all business.
When he isnt on the mound, Valentine, who hit .342 as a second-team all-GOL pick last year, will play shortstop.
Palmer also will see duty at second base and the outfield.
The only other returning senior is outfielder Pat Taylor. McCauley said he will play either right or left field.
Cooke, who along with Brian Baker, the other returning junior, will also see action at second base. Baker is penciled in at first base.
Derrick Guthrie, another senior, will fill a utility role. Guthrie played in the Baker program as a freshman.
Hes been a nice surprise, McCauley said. He can play third base, the outfield, catcher, kind of a utility role.
Four other juniors who saw limited varsity experience last season move up from the junior varsity.
Matt Mahoney will get a chance during the preseason to earn the closer role in the Baker bullpen. He also will see time in right or left field.
Justin Merritt, who McCauley said has great speed on the basepaths, can play second, third and short and the outfield.
Boyer, who will see a lot of action on the mound during the preseason, also will get a look at third base.
Greg Goodenough will challenge sophomore Chris Price at the catching position.
Another sophomore, Dan Justus, is listed in center field.
McCauley looks for the GOL to be tough from top to bottom.
Mac-Hi, La Grande, Ontario, Grant Union all will be good, he said.
Each team has at least one good pitcher.
Baker will kick off its 2001 season Friday when the Bulldogs travel to Weiser, Idaho, for a single game beginning at 4:30 p.m. MST.
Bakers first home games are against North Marion March 26. That twinbill begins at 1 p.m. at the Baker Sports Complex.