Aces’ season is another swing and miss


Just days after walking off Frank Mann Field with one final win in his back pocket, Alexandria Aces coach Corey Haines already has next season on his mind. 
The Aces, Alexandrias wooden bat summer league ballclub, have taken the field for four consecutive summers, each time eying a playoff run in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate League. Theyve fallen flat each year, including this one. With a 16-25 record and a seventh-place finish, this year wasnt much different. 
But Haines, who is expected to finalize a contract extension with the Aces next week, believes the team has an early advantage when June rolls around again. While the leagues perennial powerhouse, Bethesda Big Train, battles it out in the playoffs with the Youses Orioles, Southern Maryland Nationals and Baltimore Redbirds, hell be busy recruiting.
Its not much consolation for a losing season, but call it a silver lining.
Starting [scouting] earlier, youre going to get the better guys, Haines said. Thats when youre going to get the experience you want for summer ball. Once you get a whole core group of guys together that are confident, it trickles over and throughout the whole team thats when you get a chance [for the playoffs].
Recruiting got off to a slow start heading into the recently ended season. Many of the top college ballplayers had commitments elsewhere by the time Haines began calling them and their coaches last fall. 
Don Dinan, Aces CEO, had long ago resigned himself to a rebuilding year. While Haines didnt carry the team to the playoffs in his first year as skipper, the team he fielded impressed management. 
That said, Dinan is hungry for the postseason.  
Even though we were hoping for more, there are other things that we think are just more important in developing ballplayers, he said.  We do want to have a playoff run, and we are going to take the steps necessary [to] ensure that. What we need is more power on the team. Theres no question that a big problem we had was scoring runs.
Offensive production was lackluster for the Aces. They drove in a season high of nine runs against the Herndon Braves late in June, but rarely scored more than five runs a game. Relief pitching could have been better as well, Dinan said. There were too many losses in which one or two runs, either prevented or scored, meant the difference. 
And then theres the problem of being an expansion team. Clubs like Big Train have longer traditions and better connections with college programs, Dinan said, and too often that translates into more experienced squads. 
Pitcher David Drinks recalls the daunting task of squaring off against them.
They had a lot of real tough hitters in their lineup that put together tough at-bats each time they were at the plate, he said. They would wear you down and go after you. They were a very aggressive team and played real good baseball.
Haines hopes a jump-start on recruiting will give the Aces a leg up on Big Train next season. 
[Big Train], theyre all confident and thats what were trying to get, he said. Were trying to get better than Big Train. Once you get a full roster of guys that are confident, that will make the team bond a lot better.