By Peter Pagliaro

This years Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs feature a new skipper as well as an array of fresh faces and a few familiar ones as well.  At the helm this year for the DiamondDawgs is Head Coach Roberto Vaz.  Coach Vaz will be assisted by John Fureno, in his fourth season with the DiamondDawgs along with recently hired assistant coach Matthew Erzar.

The hiring of Roberto Vaz gives the DiamondDawgs a leader behind the bench with a multitude of professional baseball background.  Coach Vaz’s resume is one that includes a long list of accomplishments and accolades that will greatly aid him in serving not only as coach to his players but as a mentor and role model.  As a player, Vaz won a national championship with Northeast Texas Community College and was also the recipient of the MVP, Big Stick (top hitter) and Sportsmanship Awards (1st and only individual ever to win the awards in the same season) for the National Junior College Athletic Association. For these efforts he was selected to the Golden Anniversary All Time World Series Team as one of the greatest JUCO players ever.

In 1997, while at the University of Alabama, Roberto was named First Team All-American, All-SEC and still holds several offensive records at the university. Vaz was also nominated as a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top collegiate baseball player. While playing at the University of Alabama, the team finished as runner-up at the College World Series in Omaha, NE.

Following his outstanding college career Vaz was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 1997 first year player’s draft.  He went on to play seven years of minor league baseball which included winning the Triple A World Series in 1999 as a member of the Vancouver Canadians. Besides playing in the Oakland A’s organization he also played in the Texas Rangers Minor League system reaching Triple A.  Vaz is currently in his first year as assistant coach for Louisiana State University, Eunice where he is responsible for hitters, outfielders, and assists with recruiting.

Assisting Vaz this year will be Assistant Coach Matthew Erzar who is also in his first year with the DiamondDawgs and is currently pitching coach at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Eveleth, Minnesota. Prior to joining Mesabi Range, Coach Erzar was an assistant coach at Concordia (Minn.) College, University of Minnesota, Crookston and North Dakota State University.  He has also served as an assistant coach for the independent American Association’s Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks and as pitching coach in the Northwoods League with the Thunder Bay Border Cats and the Battle Creek Bombers.

The DiamondDawgs return only one player from last years team with Hassan Evans from Herkimer County Community College (HCCC) but also return a familiar face from its 2010 team in pitcher Joe Michaud.  Joining Evans from HCCC are teammates Luke Nethaway and Tyler Hall both from Fonda, New York.  Several other local players will be showcasing their talents at Veterans Memorial Park this year including New Hartford native Joe Carcone, Clinton native Tyler Heck and Oriskany native and former Notre Dame High School pitching standout Mike Gaglianese from Purdue University.  However, one very special moment will occur this season and will mark a first in the six year history of the franchise when Little Falls native and Little Falls High School graduate Evan Davis takes the field becoming the first player Little Falls native to wear the DiamondDawg colors.

This year’s squad also features several players who are currently college teammates.  Eddie Fitzpatrick and Taylor Wright are teammates at Brown University while Jonathan Scott, Joe Carcone, Joe Michaud and Salvatore Lisanti are teammates at Bryant University. Delaware State University is represented by Eddie Sorondo and Chad Sturgeon while Marist College teammates include Eric Helmrich, Mark Stuckey and Evan Davis. Lastly, representing Young Harris College is Jack Morrow and Tom Valichka.  In putting together this years DiamondDawgs team, President/General Manager Travis Heiser indicated, “these young men join us for the summer shortly after finishing their college seasons – if we can bring a group of players that already have some experience playing together, I think its to our advantage.”

This year’s team has already been making waves in baseball circles.  Three members of this year’s DiamondDawgs have raised the eyes of major league scouts, so much so that they have already been drafted.  Joe Carcone was drafted in the 47th round of the 2010 major league baseball draft by the Houston Astros, while Fabian Roman was drafted in the 36th round in 2009 by the Kansas City Royals and the Atlanta Braves coveted the services of pitcher John Means when they selected him in the 46th round of the 2011 draft.  Several players have made splashes throughout the college season as well. 2012 DiamondDawgs Hassan Evans, Tyler Hall and Luke Nethaway have all been named All-Conference All-Stars.  Tyler Heck was named first team all-conference and Salvatore Lisanti was named ‘Primetime Performer’ by College Baseball 360 while Eddie Sorondo participated in the Power Hitter Showcase representing his home state of New Jersey at Tropicana Field Home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Rays.

In speaking about this year’s team, President/General Manager Travis Heiser indicated that he has bolstered this team heavily with pitching having 13 of 27 players on the current roster as pitchers.  In discussing his roster, Heiser mentioned, “whether it’s at the high school, college or major league level, pitching is always high on everyone’s list when putting a team together – we have gone out and assembled a barrage of quality arms which we feel will make us very competitive with the other teams in this league.”  Those arms that Heiser is referring to certainly include John Means with his 8-0 record and 1.27 earned run average (era) this year at Fort Means Community College as well as Chad Sturgeon who sported a team leading 2.70 era and 7 saves this year for Delaware State and Bryant University’s Salvatore Lisanti’s 9 saves and 1.54 era.  Another strong arm that local baseball falls are familiar with is that of Mike Gaglianese.  In his 2011 senior year in high school at Notre Dame Gaglianese had a 4-1 record, three saves, and an era of 0.19 and 78 strikeouts.

Despite what appears to be a solid pitching staff it’s the hitting potential that really intrigues President/General Manager Travis Heiser.  With the college baseball seasons just finishing up for many of his DiamondDawgs players, Heiser is just now beginning to see the fruits from his recruiting efforts and he likes what he sees so far. Hassan Evans with a .389 batting average (BA) and 34 runs batted in (RBI), Tyler Heck (.379 BA/31 RBI), Tyler Hall (.376 BA/37 RBI), Jack Morrow (.347 BA/33 RBI and 11 homeruns), Luke Nethaway (.347 BA/33 RBI), Eddie Sorondo (.318 BA/42 RBI) and Chris Cruz (.260 BA/35 RBI and 12 homeruns). Honorable mentions include several others such as Eric Helmrich and David Del Grande with 21 and 20 RBI, respectively.

Whether it’s pitching, hitting or fielding Heiser feels that this team has been built to be competitive for 2012.  “The DiamondDawgs have worked very hard during the offseason to put together a team that is very talented, hardworking and dedicated towards it craft – I am confident that under the hand of our new coaching staff this team will grind out every game giving the best fans in the Mohawk Valley the best team – we are excited and look forward to the upcoming season.”

This season the PGCBL welcomes its newest expansion team – the Oneonta Outlaws.  The expansion brings one minor change to the league’s divisions – the league will now have one division consisting of all nine teams.

The ‘Dawg Pound’ at Veterans Memorial Park in Little Falls, NY will be rockin’ this summer so join us for ‘Dawg Ball’ and be apart of the fun as the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs take a bite out of the competition!!!  The DiamondDawgs will open their season at Veterans Memorial Park in Little Falls on Friday, June 8th at 7:05 p.m. against the Watertown Wizards. There will be pre-game ceremonies and a HUGE POST GAME SPECTACULAR FIREWORKS SHOW sponsored by the HERKIMER DIAMOND MINES.

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