Oklahoma City Players Use Summer With Turks To Bond

6/06/2006

Daily News Record Written By Mike Barber David Dennis is transferring to Oklahoma City University in the fall, but he’s getting his college orientation in Harrisonburg this summer. Dennis, a power-hitting, left-handed first baseman, is a late addition to the Turks’ roster, and he’s meeting some of his future college teammates now. Three current Oklahoma City players are on Harrisonburg’s roster. Dennis, who played the past two seasons in his hometown for San Diego City Community College, is getting acquainted with them sooner, so he can focus on baseball later. "That’s going to be huge, fitting in," Dennis said after stepping out of the batting cage during his first Turks practice Monday. "Going into the first few months at Oklahoma, it takes away the awkwardness and the feeling process. I can just go in there and play baseball feeling comfortable." Monday, Dennis took batting practice at Memorial Stadium with a group that included Oklahoma City University’s Bobby Spain and Ryan Rachal. Spain is the Turks’ starting shortstop and Rachal is the team’s center fielder. Catcher Brandon Harrigan, another OCU player, also starts for Harrisonburg. Rachal knows exactly what Dennis is going through. He transferred to Oklahoma City last year from Northern Oklahoma College, a junior college in Stillwater. Rachal met Spain and another OCU teammate while playing summer ball in Pennsylvania for the Lehigh Valley Cats in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. "It kind of loosens you up when you get to school," Rachal said. "You’re not so stressed out about meeting people. You can just go out there and play baseball." The OCU influence on the Turks’ roster is nothing new. Harrisonburg owner/manager Bob Wease usually has two to four Oklahoma City players on his roster because Stars assistant coach Keith Lytle is a former Valley League coach. "Keith Lytle’s one of the guys across the country that I can really trust," Wease said. "He was here. He knows what kind of ballplayers I like. I like the dirt-bag kind of players. I like the guys that get down and get dirty with you. It seems like all the boys from Oklahoma City and the Midwest schools are those kind of kids." The Stars, the 2005 NAIA national champions, went 50-12 overall and 16-3 in the Sooner Athletic Conference this year, winning their fifth league title in the last six years. They lost in the regional final to Lubbock Christian on May 13. The Valley League, an NCAA-sanctioned wood-bat league, is the most coveted summer destination for players from OCU, the Stars’ Harrisonburg contingent said. "If [Lytle] sends you here, it shows that he thinks you can really play, " Spain said. Harrigan led the team with a .405 batting average and 68 RBIs while hitting 11 home runs. Spain hit .390 with eight home runs and 54 RBIs, and Rachal hit .389 with 12 home runs and 49 runs driven in. So far this summer, Spain has provided most of the offense for the struggling Turks, the VBL’s only winless team at 0-3. He’s hitting .400 with two home runs and three RBIs, all team highs. Rachal is batting .273 and Harrigan .091. Dennis will likely make his debut tonight against Waynesboro. Playing together in the summer allows them to help coach each other. "We know how we play, we know each other’s swings," Spain said. "We can help each other make adjustments." It also helps bring instant chemistry that can spread through the rest of the Turks’ clubhouse. And, Wease said, it maintains and strengthens the relationships for when the players go back to school. "It’ll help the guys, not only here but when they go back to Oklahoma City," Wease said. "They know each other’s habits. It helps out a lot when you come here and you’ve played baseball with someone." As for Dennis, things seemed to be going well on Day 1, though he was a little tired, having just gotten to Harrisonburg after finishing classes last week. "I just came in this morning," said Dennis, still wearing a San Diego City shirt and a surprisingly regional Washington Nationals cap. "I’ve been awake for 36 hours now. I’m going through that awkward phase now, but better here than Oklahoma." Dennis said he bought the hat as a sort of investment while he was in California. The Nationals were in a trademark battle in February with a sporting goods company over the rights to the name. But in the end, Washington got to maintain its nickname and Dennis ended up with just another baseball cap. "I thought it was going to be a rarity, a collector’s item," Dennis said. "But it didn’t work out." His relationship with his new and future teammates is another story. "I’ve only known the kid for what, eight hours now," Harrigan said. "I can already tell we’re going to have a great time out here."


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