Kings will play first game at revamped Carleton Davidson Stadium against Chillicothe.
SPRINGFIELD — Luke Mamer thought he was going to dance. No, the junior pitcher wasn’t planning on the Harlem Shake. He was planning on advancing to the NCAA tournament with Wright State, who won the regular season Horizon League championship.
But the Raiders lost 5-4 to Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament’s championship game on Saturday. Only the conference tournament champion out of the Horizon League automatically qualifies to the NCAA tournament, and the Raiders (35-22) didn’t earn an at-large bid.
Mamer didn’t have much time to think about the Raiders’ loss. The Kenton Ridge graduate was back in Springfield on Sunday and picked up a new jersey.
Mamer is one of 13 pitchers and 27 total players who will suit up for the Champion City Kings, the new collegiate wood-bat summer league team in Springfield. The Kings will open their inaugural season on Wednesday night against Chillicothe at 7:05 p.m. at Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“It’s an amazing experience,” Mamer said during the Kings’ media day on Tuesday. “Especially here, (General Manager) Rick (White) has done an incredible job. Most summer teams aren’t treated like this. I was on one other, and it was like a high school team compared to this one. It’s going to be very fun.”
The Kings are a Prospect League team and will play 60 regular season games — 30 at home and 30 on the road — from May 28 to Aug. 5. The Prospect League is considered one of the top collegiate summer league teams in the country and is made of 11 teams, most of which are in the Midwest. Four teams will qualify for a postseason tournament.
The Chillicothe Paints and the Lorain County Ironmen are two other Prospect League teams in Ohio. The closest team in the league is the Richmond (Ind.) Riverrats.
Former Pittsburgh Pirate and Kenton Ridge graduate Rick White has worked as the Kings’ general manager late last fall. He’s overseen putting the team together, from selecting players to hiring coaching and staff and assisting in upgrades to Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“Being involved in summer teams the last few years, I’ve yet to see a team that’s been run this well,” manager Brett Neffendorf said. “With the community getting together with the team, with the job that the (front office) has done, with what the players are getting and how they’re treating them, with how the community’s revolving around it, it’s been amazing.”
Neffendorf comes to Springfield after coaching the Prospect League’s Slippery Rock Sliders last season. He has coached the sport for nine seasons and also is an assistant coach at Clark College, a junior college team in Washington.
Most of the Kings’ players, like Mamer, arrived over the weekend. That nature of summer ball’s quick start after the end of regular collegiate season doesn’t leave much time for players and coaches to get to know each other.
“We’ve tried to get the guys in different situations with each other and tried to take some batting practice and ground balls, nothing too much,” Neffendorf said. “Most of these guys have already gone through 50- or 60-game seasons, so we’re not trying to wear them out now since they have another 60 this summer.”
The Kings’ lineup and pitching rotation will be solidified through the first two weeks of the season. Neffendorf said it may take seven to ten games to get everything solidified.
Ryan Thurston, a freshman from Western Kentucky, will start tonight’s season opener. Thurston had a 2.16 ERA in 33 1/3 innings for the Hilltoppers last season. Mamer, who had a 4.63 ERA for Wright State this season, will start on Thursday.
Carleton Davidson Stadium has had many renovations done within the last year. National Trail Parks and Recreation District has spent approximately $40,000 on renovations, and while private donations to the Kings has funded everything from new backstop nets to new foul poles to a new scoreboard. The 200-foot scoreboard — which comes with a $200,000 price tag — will be installed next week.
All the renovations have been done to help make the stadium more up-to-date and friendly to spectators.
“I think this has the type of excitement that we had my eighth grade and freshman year when KR played here in the regionals,” Mamer said. “Now they’ve upgraded the stadium and the field looks nice. It’s just going to be very unique having the community here packing the stadium.”
The field is one of the largest in the Prospect League according to Neffendorf. It is 400 feet to straightaway center and 340 feet to each foul pole.
A few box seats and some grandstand seats are still available for Wednesday’s opener. Grandstand seats cost $5, while box seats cost $8. Fans can purchase tickets online at ChampionCityKings.com or at the box office.
Interview with Kings’ manager Brett Neffendorf