June 4 marks the return of collegiate baseball to Silver Spring as the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts take the field for their 23rd season.
With added pitching depth and speed on the basepaths and the outfield, the T-Bolts should compete for a playoff spot in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League this summer, said Coach Brock Hunter.
“The deeper you are with pitching, the more you can save those guys and not overuse them and have them fresh in the last week of the season,” Hunter said.
On the mound, the team will likely mix-and-match its starters and relievers, and it has a lot of pitchers who had strong seasons this spring. These include Evan Rishell (Millersville University), who pitched for the Thunderbolts last year, as well as newcomers Jacob McDonald (Anne Arundel Community College) and two pitchers from Wilson College, Emilio Rodriguez and Brayden Stutzman.
At the plate, the T-Bolts will employ a mix of Division I colleges, DII, junior college, and even a few high school seniors who will get their first taste of collegiate-level competition.
Several players starred at local high schools, such as infielder Beck Urofsky, formerly at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and now a rising sophomore at Cornell University; outfielder Matt Sicoli (Landon), who hit .350 as a sophomore at Emory University this spring; and Churchill High School graduate Eric Ridner, a catcher and infielder who pounded 10 homers in his first year at University of Chicago.
Coach Hunter teaches his players to approach at-bats differently than they do in college, where they use metal bats. “With the wood bats in this league, your power is reduced compared to spring college baseball, so just putting the ball in play is the way to get on base,” he said.
One of the special things about attending a T-Bolts game is that fans are extremely close to the action, said Dick O’Connor, team founder. Kids line up against the backstop behind home plate, sometimes flinching as a fastball smacks into the catcher’s glove. Meanwhile, the team offers plenty of kid-friendly contests between innings to keep everyone engaged.
“It’s a great night out for a family and inexpensive,” O’Connor said. “Tickets are $6 for adults, $2 for anyone under 18. And parking is free!”
The team also runs five weeks of summer camps, beginning on June 20, and several special skills camps as well. O’Connor said a few slots are available for the camps, which are designed for kids ages 7-14 with prior baseball experience.
While the games are entertaining, they’re also very serious. Players are working on new skills and also trying to impress Major League scouts, who are regular visitors. In May, the Chicago Cubs called up former T-Bolt Matt Mervis, bringing the total number of former Cal Ripken Collegiate League players in the majors this season to 18.
“Matt was a beast when he played in this league,” said O’Connor.
For those players with professional aspirations, the T-Bolts experience is not only about high-level competition but also about playing five or six days per week, said Hunter.
“We play so many games in a short period of time,” he said. “There are days when everyone in the lineup is tired, and we have another game. It’s a mental and physical test.”
Kevin Adler is a Silver Spring-Takoma Park Thunderbolts board member. Top photo by Neal Lavon, photo below by Owen Dominguez