Nate Devine is ready to realize his dream.
Since his days as a player on the Merced College campus, Devine's only wish was to become a college baseball coach.
After six years as the Blue Devil pitching coach, Devine gets his shot at filling up the lineup card with Chris Pedretti on a one-year sabbatical.
"I'm just anxious to get it going," Devine said. "Chris and I were so in tune with how we do and approach things, there's not going to be a lot of changes in how we approach the game.
"We're still focused on pitching and defense winning games, and on being aggressive offensively.
"Part of the fun has been putting my own touch or innovations on how we prepare, but at the end of the day, it's still going to be Blue Devil baseball."
Devine's first season calling the shots should be right in his comfort zone with a bevy of experienced arms at his disposal.
MC returns pitchers Carl Jameson (3-3, 4 saves, 3.81 ERA), Russell Longworth (5-3, 4.02 ERA, 60 strikeouts), Ryan McDaniel (4-1, 2.71 ERA, 41 strikeouts) and Darrell Jantz. They also add Cabrillo transfer and former Merced High star Mike Nelson (1-2, 3.86 ERA).
That gives Devine five possible starters with a year of experience under their belts.
"We know we're probably not going to have that one guy that dominates like we have the last few years," McDaniel said. "That's OK, because we know we have a lot of guys that can go out and get it done whatever the situation.
"Coach Devine has really pushed us to compete with each other to get better, and we all have. We believe it's going to get us to the next level."
Freshmen Nick Gonzales (Livingston), Brent Backlund (Turlock) and Thomas Longworth (Waterford) give Devine three more capable arms to use out of the pen.
"We like what we have with the pitching and the versatility a lot of the guys give us," Devine said. "Plus, it will be nice to have so many veterans there with how young we are in the field."
Shortstop Ricky McColloch, first baseman Matt Farias and utility man Clay Welch are the only regulars back from a squad that reached the NorCal Super Regionals for the third straight year.
Of them, McColloch looks to be the only opening-day starter.
That means the Blue Devils will likely trot out eight freshmen when they open the season this afternoon against defending state champion Cosumnes River.
The first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Blue Devil Field.
"I know it's a young team, but it's one of the hardest working groups I've ever been a part of," said Jameson, who will get the opening-day start. "Ricky kind of sets the example of how it should be done and the rest of the guys go out and follow."
Josh Miguel (Escalon) and Japanese import Shota Nagatomi will give MC great speed and versatility in the outfield and at the top of the lineup.
Ryan Cumberland (Turlock) and Ryan Emerald (Sonora) are expected to make an instant impact in the Blue Devil infield and with their bats, and Devine said Craig Lefebvre (Oakdale) will take over behind the dish.
"We've been champing at the bit to get going ever since that last game ended," Longworth said. "We won two games against Cosumnes last year, and they won it all, so we know we were right there.
"It's all about getting hot at the right time and hopefully our preparation will help us be that team."