The Alexandria Mariners will open their baseball season tonight with a new name and new players, but under one familiar condition: there is a better-than-even chance of rain.
The 7:30 opponent at Alexandria's Four-Mile Run Park will be defending champion Lynchburg.
Last year's version of the Carolina League Class A team, the Alexandria Dukes, unsuccessfully fought Mother Nature most of the early season, losing 18 home dates to precipitation. Those games were made up as parts of doubleheaders.
"We started the season on the road and came home with a 4-1 record," said third baseman Gary Pellant, one of five Dukes who remain with the club. "When we came home, we saw 1,200 people standing in the rain for the first game and knew we had good support. But we were not able to play at all during the first scheduled homestand and went back on the road. Then we started losing."
The Dukes finished fourth in the sixteam Carolina League with a 58-75 mark. Alexandria was in its first year in the league and was unaffiliated with a major league club.
In the off-season, Alexandria was picked up by the American League's Seattle Mariners. Many of the players are AA material because Seattle has no AA affiliate. They are slightly better off financially over last year with a $600-per-month minimum salary (last year's standard was $500).
"We went through more fundamentals during spring training this year," Pellant said. "Last year, there were tryouts and then the season started. The team this season is far more organized."
Pellant, who last season led the Dukes in home runs (14) and runs batted in (67), said defense will be the Mariners' strong suit, based on spring performances in Arizona.
A lot of that defense should come from two acquisitions. Carlos Matamoras, who will replace Pellant at second base, led Northwest League second baseman in fielding last season (.978) at Bellingham, Wash.First baseman Mike Moore of Yakima, Wash., is another expected to move up eventually to a higher class. They should shore up an infield that last season ranked last in double plays.
Center fielder Chuck Lindsay, who hit .280 last year at Bellingham and stole 50 bases in 70 games, adds speed.
Left fielder Tito Nanni, Seattle's top choice in the 1978 high school draft, and right fielder Rodney Hobbs, a .277 hitter last year at Stockton of the California League, join Lindsay in the outfield. Nanni, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder, batted .340 in the Arizona Winter Instructional League.
Catcher David Valle, shortstop Kyle Koke and southpaw pitcher Robert Simond complete tonight's probable lineup. Simond was a combined 7-4, playing with both Stockton and Bellingham in 1978, and had a 3.48 earned-run average.
Outfielder Elwood Holland, from Howard University, right-handed pitcher Ron Musselman, catcher Chris Hudson, from the University of Maryland, and relief pitcher Pete Garrity (Georgetown U.) are the other former Dukes on the club. Garrity led Carolina League pitchers in appearances (47), compiled a 2.47 ERA and led the club in saves (11) during his 12-6 campaign last year.