The Brazos Valley Bombers are hopeful that an old coach with a new approach can get them back to their championship ways.
James Dillard is back at the helm of the Bombers after spending last summer as a coach in Alaska. Bryan’s former baseball coach worked with the Bombers from 2018 to 2021, the last two seasons as head coach. He led them to the franchise’s seventh Texas Collegiate League title in 2020.
Since their inception, the Bombers have relied heavily on players from four-year colleges, especially Texas A&M, and never more than in 2020. The TCL season started late that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and stirred the rule that a team could only sign four players from the same school. The Bombers used a record eight A&M players that season along with one Aggie signee. Most were with the team for the entire season, providing a rare stability. Four-year-olds rarely spend the entire summer with their TCL teams.
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The Bombers had the best record in the league last year, but some of their players only got to play half the season, a situation Dillard would like to avoid if possible.
“At the end of the summer they were looking for players,” Dillard said. “So I went and got guys that I knew wanted to play and wanted to be here every day.”
The Bombers made their way up the junior college ranks to fill out their 2023 roster. They still have players from Lamar, Texas State, A&M and other four-year schools, but not as many, Dillard said.
The Brazos Valley opened the season against the Seguin River Monsters on Tuesday night in Seguin with a 24-player roster. By Dillard’s estimate, only three or four of them are temporary players, while the Bombers wait for more players whose varsity teams are still playing to fill out the active 30-man squad allowed by TCL.
The Bombers’ home opener will be Wednesday at 7 pm at Edible Field against the River Monsters. That kicks off a four-game homestand that will include the other four teams in the league with the Brazos Valley hosting the Victoria Generals on Friday, Baton Rouge Rougarou on Saturday and the defending league champion Acadiana Cane Cutters on Monday.
Bombers owner Uri Geva said he’s glad to have Dillard back in the dugout for the franchise’s 17th season.
“Not only is he the best coach I’ve ever worked with in terms of personality, but he also understands very well what we want to do both on and off the pitch,” said Geva. “He has the fireworks delay around 9 o’clock. He gets ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the middle of the eighth. He understands that Kaboom and the children are involved in the program.
Dillard might understand the promotional side of TCL, but he also wins, Geva said.
“He knows how to get the most out of these college kids.”
It all starts on the mound for Dillard.
“We have guys who can throw strikes,” Dillard said. “That’s half the battle if they can throw strikes.”
All of the Brazos Valley pitchers have shown excellent control, but for most of them the wood-bat TCL will be a step up from the competition.
“You put them on the mound Friday night in front of 500-600 people, and it’s a little bit of a different story,” Dillard said. “We have to identify what roles our pitchers are going to play. Who’s going to be in the back? Who’s gonna be a mean guy? Who is the owner?
Dillard plans to use every pitcher to get three to nine outs in the first few games.
The Bombers’ other asset is speed.
“We certainly have team speed in the outfield,” Dillard said. “All the Bomber teams we’ve had success with, that’s one of the things we try to have, guys who can run.”
The team has a couple of home run hitters, but most are gap hitters, “and we just hope to see them run,” Dillard said.
TCL vs. Alaska Summer League
Last year, Dillard served as the pitching coach and assistant head coach for the Mat-Su Miners in the Alaska Summer League, which is considered one of the best wood-bat summer leagues for college players.
“The TCL had better shooting, but the Alaska League was a little bit more offensive,” Dillard said, adding that southern schools are generally stronger in shooting than schools in the north and the west coast, where most of them come from. of Alaska League players.
Dillard said starting pitching was about the same in both leagues, but the TCL has the advantage in depth.
Perhaps the biggest difference was that the Alaska League didn’t have many personnel changes.
“You didn’t have to rearrange much,” Dillard said. “Once you were there, you were there. You didn’t say I was going home for the weekend. The list of him on the first day was more or less the same as on the 41st day”.
It was a good learning experience for Dillard, who is now the head baseball coach in Palestine.
“It was a different style,” he said. “It was fun to be around.”
TCL holding five
The TCL will feature five teams and a 48-game schedule for the third consecutive year.
“We have a very good stable group of owners,” said Geva, who is the president of TCL.
The league is stronger and better with the next step to possibly add franchises, Geva said. TCL has spoken with potential owners in the Metroplex, the Houston area, Oklahoma and other parts of Louisiana.
“We want to make sure we bring in people who aren’t just in it for a year,” Geva said. “We want long-term [commitment].”
The TCL All-Star Game will be at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
• GRADES — Brazos Valley fell to Seguin 7-6 in 10 innings to open the season Tuesday night. The River Monsters built a 4-1 lead in four innings, but the Bombers rallied for a run in the sixth and three more in the seventh to take a 5-4 lead. Seguin scored a run in the ninth to force extra innings, then the Bombers took a brief lead over Jordan Medellin RBI single to center field that scored Casey Sunseri, who led off the inning at second base. Seguin responded in the bottom of the 10 with RBI singles from Connor Kaiser and kyle atkinson. Weiss Garrison he went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored for the Bombers, while Sunseri and Medellín each had two hits and two RBIs. … Bombers roster includes A&M freshman catcher/infielder cameron donley along with three former Brazos Valley high school players: Helm pitcher trent tompkinscollege station pitcher zach williams and Weiss, who was a former infielder/outfielder for Brenham. Tompkins and Weiss both played for the Bombers last season. Williams made nine appearances for Lamar this year as the junior right-hander pitched 9 2/3 innings with a 1.86 ERA. Weiss hit .284 in 56 starts for Prairie View A&M this year, as the sophomore had 21 RBIs. … The Bombers had the best overall record last year at 30-18, but were swept by Victoria in the first round of the playoffs. The Bombers were also swept in 2021 in the first round by the San Antonio Flying Flip Flops after winning back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020 giving them seven in eight years. … The Bombers played their final series of the 2022 season without a head coach brock mosswho was hired as the head coach at Eastern Oklahoma State and had to leave the team. Geva he thought Moss deserved to be the league’s coach of the year. “We didn’t have many players on the All-TCL team,” Geva said. “He made the most of a scrappy group of young people.”