March 16, 2016
Baseball season is right around the corner and the Carroll Merchants are looking to make a splash this summer in their first full season in Carroll. The club has made a multitude of changes from last season in hopes of putting forth a better product on the field.
Donnie Roberts is back as the Merchants’ general manager, but is not going at it alone this season. He will be joined by three other coaches, headlined by Luis Abreu, an international scout for the Baltimore Orioles. Abreu is originally from Venezuela, where he played two years of professional baseball. He also played in the minor leagues for the then Florida Marlins and Minnesota Twins. Abreu owns his own baseball academy in Madison, Wisc. and says he is very excited about exposing the international players to Carroll.
“It helps us out a lot, because it gives us a legitimate guy and the boys that will come here get to play in front of a professional baseball scout,” Roberts said in a recent phone interview. “Guys get that chance I guess as they get into the upper levels of baseball, but he’s going to be able to see them at practice and in person and he’ll be able to evaluate them a lot better. Is that going to be his main goal is scouting? No, his main thing is going to be helping getting the team going, but he’s an international scout, so anytime you’re lucky enough to play in front of that kind of person, you have to be thankful.”
Abreu, who will oversee the coaching duties, will also be joined by Harley Thompson, a pitching coach from Des Moines Area Community College, and Corey Gliden, a graduate assistant coach for Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Perhaps the biggest difference from last year’s inaugural season is players will have host families in the area; an adaptation more in line with the standard model for college summer leagues across the Midwest. This will allow the club to become more entrenched in the fabric of the community and sets up volunteer and work opportunities for the players.
“It’ll definitely help. We’ll no longer be visitors, you know, we’re going to be apart of Carroll and hopefully representing Carroll well,” Roberts said. “Hopefully it’ll be leaps and bounds better than last year. I know we’ve definitely been working to ensure it’s a quality entertainment product for the summer and we’ve still got quite a bit of work ahead of us, but some great people down at the Chamber and in Carroll are helping us out a ton.”
The Chamber’s enhanced involvement has been an integral part the team’s renewed prospects this season. In a release, Carroll Chamber of Commerce Director Shannon Landuaer said a volunteer committee is “working hard to incorporate opportunities for businesses to be involved” and that there will be special events planned at several of the games with much more to come.
John Perrin, a Chamber board member, will house two players this year. But there are still plenty of players out of the nearly two-dozen expected to be on the roster that will need accommodations.
Roberts, who has delegated the duties of filling out the 23-man roster to Abreu and Gliden, says he believes a talented team comprised of many Iowa players is taking shape and that he hopes to have a few local products on board as well.
“That’s gone very well,” Roberts said of the roster to date. “The guys who are involved in determining that, they have a great history in baseball. We want to get quality players that represent Carroll in not only baseball, but value wise. We also want young men who want to play at the next level. Is that going to happen? Who knows. But they’re going to be working at it.”
The Merchants will also find themselves competing in a brand new league this season after an expansion season of sorts in the MINK League last season. They, along with six other teams, will form the Corn Belt League, which has four teams from the Omaha area and three from western Iowa.
There are a myriad of benefits in forming the Corn Belt, Roberts says, but the added incentive of playing for a league title tops the list. But most importantly, it will ensure more stability going forward and allow the club to form rivalries and build tradition, which begins in earnest this season.
“We have a very set schedule at Carroll, so the boys will be able to integrate themselves an become part of representing Carroll,” Roberts said. “You know, that’s our biggest goal is showing Carroll how much we appreciate playing there and hopefully we can represent Carroll throughout the league.”
The Merchants’ first home game at Merchants Park is June 3 against Sioux Falls. It is one of 13 home games the club will have this summer.