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Penn College Set for Saturday Baseball Opener

When Chris Howard took over the reins of the Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball program two years ago, as a former major-league player he had a vast knowledge of the game as a player, but not much as a coach. “I’ve learned a lot,” Howard said of his transition. “One was just dealing with different personalities on the team. As a coach, you have to learn to work different guys in different ways.” Another is game strategy. “You have to be a little more in tune with everything that’s going on.” During his 10-year big league career, mainly with the Seattle Mariners, most of Howard’s time was spent behind the plate as a catcher. “Catching is a little different, you always had to know what was going on here and there. But, as a coach, you really have to think ahead. It’s all a learning experience,” he said. “And another thing is handling the pitching staff; knowing when to pull them, when to hold them. “And this is college. These kids are student-athletes. It’s not professional where you just worry about their performance on the field. You really have to stay on them when it comes to grades; make sure they’re doing their homework,” Howard continued. “I knew it was going to be different. I guess I was surprised at how big a difference it was. But it was something that was fun. You’re new. You’re learning as you go. It really makes the whole process a lot more fun,” Howard said. “I enjoy it. I told people I didn’t realize how much I missed the game until I got back in it. I’m glad that I’m the coach here,” he added. Howard’s team was 22-11 during his first year (Penn College plays a fall and spring season during the academic year), and then went 31-13 last year and captured the Penn State University Athletic Conference championship. He also was named the conference coach of the year last spring. It has been just three months since the team’s spring season ended, but already the players are back on the practice field, getting ready for their season opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at Westmoreland Community College. “We’ve got a few holes we’ve got to fill — first base, second, third, and we lost quite a few pitchers, also,” Howard said. “I told the guys (Wednesday), this is my third year here and this is the most quality players we’ve had come out since I’ve been here. You always had that good core nucleus of good players, but this year we have a lot of them. It’s a nice problem to have,” the coach continued. “I like the way our infield is shaping up right now. We have Phil Woodring (senior, Waynesboro) at shortstop. He’s an all-conference player who is the anchor, the catalyst for the whole team. He’s a good guy to have your team built around,” Howard said. “The outfield is pretty much intact with Dane Glick (sophomore, Belleview) in center field, Matt Mientus (sophomore, Macungie) in left and Justin Crowther (junior, Bear, Del.) in right field. “Pitching-wise we’ve got probably if not the best pitcher, one of the best in the league with Mark Shaffer (junior, Hanover). I think he’s only lost twice in the last two years. He’s done a great job for us, and he’s such a good example for the other pitchers with his work ethic. And we’ve got John Vitovsky (senior, Waymart) for the fall season. Unfortunately, we’ll have to find somebody to replace him in the spring. We have two good guys at the top of the rotation. Pitching was a big question mark coming into this season, but after the last couple of days and seeing some guys, I think we’ll be all right there.” Catcher James Craft (senior, York) returns behind the plate. “James has been the one constant through everything. He does a good job handling pitchers, and hitting-wise he really started coming through last year, too. In practice, his swing has really looked good. If he can give us more offense this year we’re going to be really good instead of just good.” Of Penn College’s 15 sports teams, baseball, because of its spring-fall season, has the quickest turnaround. Howard views that as a positive. “I think it’s a plus. The guys are never that far away from the game, and the new kids coming in, a lot of them have been playing in summer leagues. The fact that we do start early is not as bad as it would be if guys were sitting around for four or five months not doing anything,” Howard said. “I’m excited. It’s a big year for the team with the new conference we’re in. It’s a little more to shoot for. It’s not just a conference championship, but a chance to head to Hampton, Va. (in the spring) and play for a national championship.” But, Howard is quick to point out the Wildcats must take care of PSUAC “business” first. “I told the guys at the very beginning, the United States Collegiate Athletic Association championship is the prize at the top of the ladder. We have to climb those rungs first before we can get to there,” he said. “They just need to get out there and play and see what they can do. We’ve got about eight games before conference play starts, so it will be a chance for the new and younger guys to show us what they have, and by the time conference play starts we can set out our main team. “The guys look excited and are working hard. I perceive a good year,” Howard added.

( Complete rosters and season schedules are available on the college’s Athletics Web site. )

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