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story.lead_photo.caption Westside Eagle Observer/MIKE ECKELS Adam Garcia (center) tries to pick off an Omaha runner at third base during the April 7, 2017, Decatur-Omaha conference game at Edmiston Park in Decatur. Garcia will take over as team leader this season from Jay Porter, who graduated last year.

DECATUR -- It is often called "The National Pastime." And soon professional, college, high school, little league, and T-ball athletes from across the country will take to the diamond to participate in the game of baseball. Joining their fellow baseball players will be the Decatur Bulldogs, who will continue the rich tradition of Decatur baseball that dates back more than 50 years.

Coach Jason Porter spent much of the off-season recruiting new players and honing his veteran players' baseball skills. He admits that this year is going to be tough with the loss of several of his key players, like Ryan Shaffer, Leng Lee and Jay Porter.

Jay was not only the top pitcher for the Bulldog program but also the team leader, something that the elder Porter had a hard time dealing with when putting together this year's roster.

"I will admit that losing Jay to graduation last May was a hard thing to deal with for both me and the team," said Porter. "But we are working through it, and the amazing part is that there are a few guys that are stepping into Jay's role and will be the driving force behind our success this season."

One player that Porter will depend on is Adam Garcia who took over as the Bulldogs' third baseman last season as a freshman. Porter is looking to Garcia to take over the leadership role where Jay left off.

"Adam is going to have to be a true leader in every sense of the word," Porter said. "He will have to lead us on the field, as well as making decisions under pressure, and also help the younger players understand the game. As far as the team finding its identity, Adam will have a pivotal role in this area."

The Bulldogs will be a young team with four sophomores and six freshmen, most of whom have never played the game.

"The freshmen I have this year will be thrown into the fire, so to speak," said Porter. "They are going to have to figure it out (the game) in a hurry and a lot of them have already. They showed up for off-season practices, getting in there and swinging the bat and running down the ball and everything they need to do to play this game."

The two seniors, Taylor Haisman and Alex Lee, along with juniors Austin Hamilton and Jimmy Mendoza, make up the remaining spots on the roster this season. They will be called upon to use their athletic skills and abilities to make quick decisions on the fly to help propel the team forward.

On the mound for the Decatur Bulldogs will be four pitchers, Adam Garcia, Bryan Ward, Austin Hamilton and Keven Garcia, all with strong arms.

"Adam, Bryan, Austin and Kevin will all throw for us this year," Porter said. " Bryan pitched for us last season and he and Adam probably have the strongest arms of the four. But as Austin and Kevin get more time on the mound, I feel their abilities will grow, giving a stronger pitching staff in the coming years."

The Decatur Bulldogs will host the 1A Northwest District tournament at Edmiston Park in Decatur April 26 (times to be announced). The last time the Bulldogs hosted a baseball district tournament was in the early 1980s.

"Hosting the tournament is kind of a big deal for our community," said Porter. "A lot of things have to be done to the ball field to get it ready for the tournament. Fortunately, we have Mayor Bob Tharp and the city's maintenance crew who have pledged their support for this project. This will be a big boost for the town's local economy as well as all the baseball programs in the Decatur area, and we appreciate any help from the community."

The Bulldog baseball team opens its 2018 season at Watts, Okla., March 5, when they take on the Watts Engineers.

For a complete Decatur baseball schedule, go to decatursd.com/athletic/ baseball.

Sports on 03/07/2018

Print Headline: New look for Bulldogs in 2018 baseball season

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