HAGERSTOWN - The older brother of the Nationals' famous young hitter, a new-look uniform and a brand new manager highlight the 2013 version of Single-A Hagerstown Suns.
Tripp Keister was promoted from the GCL Nats and takes over for Brian Daubach, who moved on to Single-A Potomac. The Suns feature several talented draft picks and eight Dominican players this season. They also will wear red- and blue-trimmed uniforms, more in tune with their top team, the Washington Nationals.
"I think we will be strong pitching-wise early," Keister said. "I think offensively it will take some games while all these guys get their feet under them, getting used to 140 games, consistency will be our goal. We have talked about making sure these guys get into their consistent routine. We want to get these guys ready to play every night.
"In terms of early batting practice, getting fly balls, getting their ground balls, that is the big deal for these guys right now. That is going to be our challenge in a hurry. It is not 50 games anymore. It is a long season."
Keister said that is really one of the most important goals of his first season at Harrisburg - to get his players used to the daily grind of what it means to be a professional. Of course, a player can make it through April and sometimes into May. But how does he fair in June, July and August with games every day?
"I think in baseball, the strength is in playing every day," Keister said. "That is how you accumulate your numbers. That is how you learn to put yesterday behind you and keep moving forward and looking to today. (Nationals left fielder Bryce) Harper had two home runs yesterday and he has got to come play again tomorrow. He had a great day (Monday) and (Wednesday) it is over. These guys really got to learn. That is our challenge as a staff. That is probably what we are most proud about."
Looking at he batting order, Tony Renda will lead off and play second base. Keister will have his outfield be the three-four-five hitters with a mixture of guys from J.R. Higley, Estarlin Martinez, Brandon Miller and Wander Ramos. Carlos Lopez is the first baseman and Renda and Stephen Perez up the middle with Mike McQuillian as his third baseman. Khayyan Norfork and Wes Schill are the utility infielders. Craig Manuel and Pedro Severino are the catchers.
Right-hander Dixon Anderson will be the opening day starter for the Suns and Delmarva on Thursday.
Harper's older brother, Bryan Harper, will be the only left-hander in the bullpen. But Keister said that is not a big deal like it would be on a major league club. Many of the pitchers will come in a different times to get their innings in versus a particular game situation.
Off the field, I have been told by local sources not related to the Nationals that a new downtown ballpark for Hagerstown does not look likely. Many people in the city like Municipal Stadium as a historic landmark and the proposed downtown site ran into issues related to its possible location with no consensus reached. A decision on a new stadium could be made within the next week.
There also has been a lot of talk about Winchester and even Fredericksburg, Va., as possible sites for a future home for a minor league team. The Nationals have a year-by-year agreement with the Suns in place for this season.
The Suns have several fun giveaways and promotions throughout the season, including a Bryce Harper bobblehead night set for Sunday, Aug. 18.