WATERTOWN — Last summer proved to be a banner year for the Watertown Rams in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball season.
With a new coach and sporting a new nickname as well as a new logo, the Rams went on to win their first division title and make their first playoff appearance in seven years.
“I’m very excited for this year,” Watertown coach Paul Alteri said. “Last year we had a real good taste of having a winning season and I’m looking forward to this year for sure.”
It didn’t quite yield a league championship in the traditional summer wooden-bat circuit, as Watertown was ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
Watertown, which will open its PGCBL season at 7 tonight at Adirondack, will begin its home schedule at 7 p.m. on Thursday against Mohawk Valley at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“It was very exciting,” said returning infielder Tyler Decker, an Adams native, of last season. “Everybody was behind us 100 percent and its nice to feel that every game especially when we got down to the end of the season and into the postseason.”
This year’s team has yet another new logo — a snarling and meaner looking Ram which is a change from the Dodge Ram corporate logo of a season ago.
Team general manager Todd Kirkey, along with co-owner Kristine Czajkowski, seek to create a minor-league like atmosphere at the Fairgrounds.
“It was exciting for the franchise and the community,” Kirkey said of last season. “It was a great experience, but we want to strive to be better.”
Last year, Watertown shook off a slow start to the season to claim their first division championship since 2006 when known as the Wizards while competing in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. Watertown, won a franchise record 29 games and finished 10 games over the .500 mark with a 29-19 record.
“We struggled and that’s when I loosened up the reigns a little bit,” Alteri said. “I let the guys be themselves on the field and that seemed to work. I guess we did that at the right times because that was quite an ending to the season, that’s for sure.”
Even with all of last year’s success, the franchise is still in search of its first playoff game victory since the summer of 2008 when Watertown was a member of the NYCBL.
“Winning is still important and I pound that in their heads,” Alteri said. “I don’t know what you’re here for, but we’re here to win. I have no problem getting fired if I’m not doing my job and winning ball games.
“Winning ball games brings a good attitude, it brings people into the stands and I’m too old to go through losing seasons. I’m at the point of my career where I want to win and they better be willing to do that, too.”
Once again, the Rams roster sports players from across the country, with several from Washington state and California, to Texas and Louisiana as well as the East Coast.
One player returning who was a key component to Watertown’s surge to the playoffs last summer is infielder Dominic Lopez of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi who led the Rams with 31 runs driven in 36 games in 2013. Lopez hit .250 in 36 games with the Rams in 2013, which included nine extra base hits, with six doubles and two home runs.
“Dom is a super kid, he’s a real quiet kid, but he just goes out there and does his job,” Alteri said. “He had a rough year in college, he didn’t hit the ball like he did for us last year. But I didn’t care, I wanted him back and he wanted to come back. So I look forward to getting him back onto the field.”
This year’s roster includes three players from major college conferences — infielder Nick Moore from Missouri and pitchers Mitch Ewald from LSU and Sean Rakcoski from Kansas.
“I think we’re going to be even better offensively,” Alteri said. “I don’t know defensively yet and I don’t know about our pitching yet, but I think we’ll have a better offensive unit.”