By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Mark Briscoe)
The Alexandria Aces, who play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League each summer, are coming off their best season in franchise history, when they finished with a 27-17 record. As the Aces prepared to play their 2014 home opener Thursday, the team’s head coach David DeSilva took time to talk with the Alexandria Times about last year’s remarkable run and what he’s expecting from this season.
TIMES: Fans see the team in the summer, but can you give us a sense of what happens off the field as you try to build your roster, the challenges you face and how important it is to have good relationships with college programs?
DeSilva: In my opinion, there is no off-season. As soon as the season ended last year, I was on the phone with college coaches working on 2014. College coaches want to know their players are being taken care of during the summer. It’s very important from my standpoint to make sure I manage expectations for both the players and the coaches. This can include — but isn’t limited to — playing time, number of innings pitched and down time between starts. This helps build the relationship.
Trust is a huge factor. And as soon as you think you have your roster set, which is usually early to late fall, you start facing challenges. Players get injured, need to get jobs, decide to pursue other opportunities, and sometimes just decide this isn’t the place for them. When those things happen, I’ve got to have players on a pseudo “waiting list” to fill these spots. That’s why recruiting never ends. Outside of that, our board and I work on sponsorships, gameday operations, equipment ordering, etc. It’s a long 10 months between pitches.
It’s the nature of the college ball summer baseball leagues, where there’s always huge turnover no matter what team you’re talking about, but you’ve got an almost entirely new roster this season. How do you face the challenge of trying to maintain some continuity when you’re facing so many players coming and going.
DeSilva: The summer collegiate leagues across the country always have had a tremendous amount of turnover. We have 33 new guys this year with only one returner, all-star infielder Dave Schanz. I strive to help my players achieve the ultimate goal of developing both personally and athletically. When they leave Alexandria, I want them to be better people, better students and better athletes. I’d say looking back at the players in 2013, we accomplished that goal.
We have former players playing this summer in the Cape Cod League which is the country’s No. 1 collegiate league and multiple guys that helped their universities by having career years. When our players go back to their colleges and universities, they tell their coaches about the positive experience in Alexandria, the highly competitive league and the opportunity to explore the metro D.C. area. And all of that creates a lot of excitement for the coaches to send players back. You’ll see that we have players this year from many of the same schools as 2013.
Last year, you guys might not have had a ton of power, but you still manufactured a lot of runs and had an excellent bullpen. Any thoughts on what to expect from this year’s club at this point?
DeSilva: I’d expect a lot of the same type of baseball. Wooden bats are a great equalizer. This year’s team is built on strong pitching, solid defense and team speed. I would expect to see a lot of close games and exciting action. The league expanded the roster limit to 35 players so we’ll have the ability to play match-ups a little more and this allows for a few additional off days to keep our players fresh.
The Aces had their best season in history last year in what really proved to be a breakout campaign for the franchise. What do you take from last year insofar as how you’re going to approach this season? And what are your goals this season?
DeSilva: Last season, we posted a 27-17 record in the regular season, earned a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and hosted and won a playoff game. All of these marked firsts in franchise history. We also had consideration for a top 30 ranking in the final six weeks of the season. As we approach the 2014 season this week, there’s been an incredible amount of work to better our organization. We’ve upgraded our roster, our staff, our gameday activities and we’re getting more involved in the community.
As far as my goals, they’re simple. First, I want to focus on the players. I’ve got to uphold my commitment to them and help them develop. Secondly, I want to get the community more involved. It’s amazing how many people don’t know about the Alexandria Aces. Lastly, I continue to strive to build a sustainable winning environment in Alexandria. We’ll do this by continuing to recruit high level talent, build a presence in the community, and enhance our game-day operations. If we focus on the process instead the outcome, winning will take care of itself.