May 29—MANISTEE — Roddy MacNeil considers his position this year moreso a “player manager” than “player coach.”
MacNeil, a longtime starting pitcher for the Manistee Saints, takes on the manager role for the 2020 season in place of Tyrone Collins. The season starts June 5 with a doubleheader against the Northern Michigan Dogmen out of Boyne City.
Fellow longtime pitcher Kyle Gorski joins MacNeil as a pitching coach for the 2021 summer baseball season. Practice begins Sunday.
MacNeil and Gorski serve as half of the Saints starting pitching rotation. Sam Schmitt, a Traverse City Central grad who now plays for Grand Rapids Community College, will be third in the rotation. The fourth starting pitcher is yet to be named.
The Saints play in the Great Lakes University Baseball League, a summer wooden bat league that has a history of giving summer at-bats to northern Michigan college baseball players that play junior college, Division 2 and Division 3.
“I think a lot of people look at the coaching side of things and think that we’re going to be tweaking guys’ swings or changing how they play defense, or really breaking down their skills and developing them that way, when these guys come to us, they’re playing at the collegiate level and they already have that given to them,” said MacNeil, who’s 28 and will be entering his 10th year with the Saints.
MacNeil said he’s going to focus less on calling guys out for making mistakes and more on managing the team. That means making sure guys get 120 at-bats and ensuring the best possible team hits the field every weekend to win games.
Per usual, this season the Saints roster many players that played for Traverse City high schools and surrounding counties.
Two key returners are TC West alumni Alex Strickland (C/1B, L/R, Saginaw Valley State) and TC St. Francis alum Keaton Peck (LF/P, R/R, Northwood/Pit Spitters).
Alumni from TC Central are Schmitt (P/1B, L/L, Grand Rapids CC/Pit Spitters), Logan Briggs (LF, L/L, Northwood), Cam Fewless (P, R/R, Aquinas) and Martin Foley (2B/OF, R/R, None); Brett Zimmerman (C, L/R, Wayne State/Great Lakes Resorters) played at Frankfort; and Braeden Lundquist (P, L/L, Mid Michigan CC) suited up at Cadillac.
The rest of the roster includes Manistee residents Dillon Rankin (bench coach, catching coach, Alma) and Lucas Richardson (RF, L/R, Trine), a Brethren alum; Central Lake resident Clint Druckenmiller (P, L/L, Northwood), an Ellsworth alum; a trio of Ludington players in Lucas Weinert (2B/3B, R/R, Aquinas), Stephen Weinert (C, L/R, Ludington HS) and Nate Lange (SS, R/R, Goshen); Grand Rapids West Catholic alum Connor Chrystan (OF, R/R, Aquinas); Grandville alum Jake Paganelli (C, L/R, Grand Rapids CC); and Evart grad Justin O’Dell (P, R/R, Cornerstone).
The Saints most notable loss is likely three-year MVP Nick Brzezinski who played for Aquinas after graduating from TC West. Last year’s MVP, Chris Proctor, was recently elevated to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in the Detroit Tigers minor-league system.
Zimmerman played with the Great Lakes Resorters in 2020 with St. Francis star and fellow Wayne State ballplayer Joey Muzljakovich, who was supposed to play for the Saints before the original three-team pod filled out its rosters. Peck and Schmitt, roommates at Grand Rapids CC, played with the Pit Spitters in their final games of the season.
“We have a really deep lineup. I expect one to nine, everyone will be able to hit and contribute at the plate,” MacNeil said. “We’re returning a lot of the pitching staff from last year and that is going to be one of our strengths. Being able to kind of take a step in and know that our weekends are kind of already lined up — who’s going to be our starting guys, who’s going to be the first out of the bullpen, closer — definitely gives us a real advantage.”
Gorski, 28, joins MacNeil as an pitching assistant. Originally from West Bloomfield, Gorski was an assistant under MacNeil at Brethren High School when the Bobcats won back to back district titles in 2016 and 2017. He now lives in Traverse City.
Manistee general manager Phil Kliber said MacNeil and Gorski both know what the Saints expect as an organization and what their goals are aside from wins and losses.
“The Pit Spitters are a different type of the same organization. They bring in kids from all over the country that are Division 1 ballplayers,” Kliber said. “We’re really trying hard to make this something for the northern Michigan ballplayers, which it really always has been.”
The Saints play 36 games this summer, with a postseason tournament beginning July 29.
Manistee travels to face the Northern Michigan Dogmen in Boyne City on June 5, then the Dogmen come to Manistee for a doubleheader June 6. After six games with the defending league champion Grand Rapids Brewers, the Saints host the Midland Coyotes June 26.
Home games begin at 1 p.m. at Rietz Park in Manistee.
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