The Wingnuts face an unfamilar opponent during their first homestand, but it’s not one with which they’ll have to familiarize themselves.
New Jersey opens a series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Monday. The Jackals are part of the Can-Am League, which will play interleague series with the American Association this season.
Reshuffling within the AA left the Wingnuts’ league with 13 teams, necessitating significant changes to the schedule. Wichita plays three games against the Can-Am — none after the series against New Jersey — as part of a severely imbalanced AA schedule.
The AA added Laredo while losing Shreveport-Bossier and Fort Worth, and the Can-Am teams aren’t eligible for the AA postseason.
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"I don’t think you can compare the Can-Am league to us," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "I think we’re a superior league because we have a bigger salary cap and we have more experienced players."
Geography largely dictates the AA schedule, and when the league expanded to 14 teams last season, the schedule was skewed so the teams in the Wingnuts’ division, all north of Wichita, played more games against North Division teams while Wichita played more against the South.
The Wingnuts, centrally located, are the only team to make road trips to all 12 other cities. That creates a postseason in which opponents have played dramatically different 100-game schedules.
"I want to play the divisional play," Hooper said. "If you’re going to award a divisional winner, let us play the division more often than not."
The addition of the Can-Am adds to the imbalance this season. Wichita’s three interleague games are dwarfed by St. Paul’s 16. The Saints are taking a 10-game road trip through Can-Am cities, which cost them $20,000 that the Wingnuts opted not to pay.
The Wingnuts have a 15-game road trip in July and August during the National Baseball Congress World Series
"We’re not going to just fork over 20 thousand," Hooper said. "You say is that fair or not. What about the smaller-market teams down south that try to stay under the salary cap — they have no chance of going out there and forking over that money. Experimental deal and we’ll see how it works out."
Up the middle — The Wingnuts should be strong at the most important defensive spots on the diamond, with late-season pickup Mitch Einertson returning to man center field and Salomon Manriquez, a former Triple-A catcher, giving them experience behind the plate.
Hooper is perhaps most excited about the double-play combination of shortstop Ryan Khoury and second baseman Jake Kahaulelio. Khoury reached Triple-A with the Red Sox organization and Kahaulelio made it to Double-A with the Reds.
The two are both versatile hitters who should give the Wingnuts steady, reliable defense.
"I’ve never had anything like that," Hooper said. "They’re pretty special. I’m a defensive-minded guy being a former middle infielder, and there’s not a whole lot I have to teach those two."
Weekend promotions — The Wingnuts will give away magnet schedules to the first 2,000 fans tonight. Friday is the first fireworks night of the season, and Saturday features the Flying Houndz Trick Dog Show.
On Sunday, the annual Guns and Hoses softball game between Wichita firemen and police officers will take place after the Wingnuts game. Wichita switched to 2:05 start times for Sunday home games this season.