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Tigers begin baseball tryouts

The field was soggy. The air was cold. Ground ball practice was impossible. But none of those things were enough to deter the 30 hopefuls who showed up for Demopolis High School baseball tryouts Friday afternoon.

The athletes are hoping to gain a spot somewhere within a Demopolis roster that has been largely depleted by graduation and injury.

“We’re going to approach it like we would any other year,” head coach Ben Ramer said of the program’s outlook headed into the 2009 season.

The Tigers lost six seniors, including five starters off of last season’s team. The next blow dealt to the squad’s aspirations came when senior Shelby Speegle suffered a significant knee injury in the second half of the football team’s final game of the season against Carver.

Speegle, whose return date is indefinite, figured to be the team’s top returning pitcher and starting center fielder. He also served as the team’s most consistent hitter.

The injury leaves holes at five of the eight positions and a series of question marks on the Demopolis pitching staff.

“It is similar to last year,” Ramer said, likening the situation to the one he faced while feeling out the talent pool at his disposal during his first season at Demopolis.

The tryout process, which runs into next week, is the first step in determining who will make up the 2009 Tiger team.

Still, while the Tigers are confident that incumbents will hold down positions at shortstop, first base and catcher, Ramer knows that it is difficult to project a player’s development from year to year. That phenomena, he said, fills the early portion of every season with some uncertainty.

“Sometimes kids develop over the offseason and sometimes you have one lose a step,” Ramer said. “Some kids are going to be in some positions they haven’t been in before.”

Regardless of the make up of his team, Ramer knows that one of the major keys to its success will be the emotional leadership provided by its seniors.

“Leadership is key,” Ramer said. “We could have a team full of Division I players and if we don’t get leadershiop, it isn’t going to happen.”

That fact is not lost on the team’s most experienced players, who were vocal in their efforts to encourage younger potential teammates Friday evening.

“It’s going to be more of a load on us than it was in football because there’s only four of us,” senior Morgan LeCroy said of the burden of leadership he and his classmates are attempting to shoulder this season.

“I know (the leadership) is going to be there,” Ramer said. “There is no doubt in my mind they are dang good kids. They are class acts.”

Once the roster is set, the Tigersr are shifting their focus entirely from the players that are missing to the ones that are not.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do with what we’ve got,” LeCroy said.

What the Tigers are trying to do this season is avoid the slow 3-11 start they experienced in the 2008 campaign and make a run beyond the second round of the playoffs, where they were ousted by John Carroll.

“Anytime you lose in the second round, it’s going to be a motivating factor for the next year,” senior Jacob Kerby said. “We’ve just got to focus on getting better.”

According to the seniors, the only way to avoid the pitfalls they faced last season will be to work harder than they did a year ago.

“We’ve got to work harder than we did last year,” senior Trey Oates said.

The next step for the program, however, is to determine who will be running out of the dugout on game days.

“We’ll get the right kids in the right places,” Ramer said.