The Merced College baseball season opens today with a scrimmage against Cosumnes River.
With his players anxious to get started, Blue Devils coach Chris Pedretti's outlook on the upcoming season is understandably bright.
MC returns 12 players from a team that advanced to the first round of the NorCal playoffs a season ago -- including All-NorCal right fielder Bryan Abrey.
While that alone could produce some enthusiasm, what has Pedretti most excited is the talented group of freshmen he's assembled to complement his returnees.
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"We feel like our depth is a lot better than it has been in years," Pedretti said. "We have 35 guys out here right now, which is eight or nine more than we usually have."
With players like Golden Valley's Vinnie La Mattina and Jason Hague, Pedretti's freshman roster reads like a Central Valley all-star team.
The recruiting class was made even better by a number of athletes returning to the Valley from stints at other schools.
Former Buhach Colony ace Brock Floro (Kansas State), and former Merced standouts Logan Todd (Texas Tech) and Kory Vitato (Fresno City College) have all transferred back to MC.
Dress for Success
Merced College women's basketball coach Allen Huddleston said sophomore Ashley Willison started an interesting fashion trend over the summer.
An injury has forced Willison to sit out the season, but a few of her teammates have picked up her habit of practicing in a variety of colorfully striped socks.
Never one to pull punches, Huddleston dubbed the group the Ugly Socks Club -- or U.S.C. for short.
Lakeya Sears, Jhinnae Clark and redshirt Keyonna McKibbens have continued the tradition into the regular season.
With little to do until spring training begins in February, Rockies relief pitcher Brian Fuentes is passing the time out at Merced College baseball practices.
Pedretti said the annual presence of the Blue Devil alum always has a positive effect on his players.
"The kids see how hard he works, and what it takes to be successful in this game," Pedretti said. "Plus, it shows them that going to a four-year school and making the big leagues is a possibility."
Fuentes isn't the only pro giving back to his alma mater, either.
Current minor leaguers Doug Fister, Dusty Ryan, Curtis Partch and Omar Aguilar all have made regular appearances, helping the Blue Devils get prepared for the season.
"Three of them are pitchers, so it gives the a guys a chance to see them throw and pick their brains," Pedretti said. "It's win-win for us."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org