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Yankees gear up for tourney at Lampe Park

Donnie Nelson

The Nevada Yankees, a semipro baseball team based in Gardnerville, won 1-of-3 games against the Humboldt Crabs in Arcata, Calif., last weekend and conclude the regular season with a game Friday against the Tahoe Emeralds.

After that, Nevada plays in the prestigious U.S. Open at Lampe Park.

At least 16 of the top amateur baseball teams on the West Coast, possibly including a few from outside the United States, will come to the Carson Valley beginning Aug. 8 to battle it out for amateur supremacy. Quite a few of the teams are ones that Nevada has played and defeated during a 27-5 campaign this summer. The Nevada coaching staff won’t know a whole lot about a few others.

The Yankees program is essential for college players in the summer because it allows them to stay in the area, work and go to school if necessary, according to Nevada manager Hal Wheeler.

“It just keeps their skills sharp,” Wheeler said. “They have to play in the summer and if we didn’t provide the opportunity here they would have to go to Sacramento. Most want to play because they love the game.”

The Yankees play at Lampe Park because field No. 1 is one of the few in the area with major league dimensions around the outfield. Wheeler, along with Mike Simon, the team’s general manager, is as much of a fixture at Lampe as the team itself.

“I was the head coach at Douglas High School for 19 years and I just love the game so it’s hard for me to stay away,” Wheeler said. “Somebody had to do it.”

But don’t be mistaken, the Yankees want to win. That means putting the best team on the field as possible.

“Of course I would like for everybody to get playing time but we do like to win,” Wheeler said. “We do want to keep all of the guys going so when they go back to school they will be sharp and in shape.”

There have been many surprises for Wheeler this season, particularly on the pitching staff.

“Lou Lockwood, from Hawthorne, has really come on and pitched well for us, along with Josh Walker and Gabe Zappin,” Wheeler said.

The Yankees are loaded with talent offensively, but Cameron White, one of the team’s leading power hitters, will be heading back to Dallas Baptist this week and will not compete in the U.S. Open.

Justin Martin has proven to be a valuable leadoff hitter, finding new ways to get on base all of the time. No. 2 hitter Matt Wheeler has shown a display of power recently. Dan Bir, Scott Simon and Brad Rogers have shown to be good contact hitters. Paul Thorn has home run potential, new catcher Corky Miller has shown he can hit the ball hard and to all areas of the field, and former Douglas star Jonathan Storke has picked up where he left off after a great season at Cuesta, Calif., Junior College.

Ted Foster and Mike Bellig have provided instant offense in the past.

“All in all the team chemistry has been pretty good,” Wheeler said. “I think we can win the U.S. Open. We will have a home field advantage.”

The problem that Wheeler may into during the 10-day tournament is players leaving for school.

Simon provides the financial backbone for the ball club. He has liked what he has seen so far this summer.

“Overall, the team is doing good,” Simon said. “We’ve had some games where guys couldn’t be there for one reason or another, but in most aspects we are ahead of where we were last year. Our expectations have gone up as has the quality of our schedule.”

The biggest problem for Wheeler this summer has been getting a full commitment out of his players. Simon also wants to see a full commitment.

“It’s important for these kids to play,” Simon said. “Their college coaches all the time are looking to place kids somewhere. There are not a lot of places to play for them during the summer outside of the midwest.”

Simon is always looking for somebody to step forward and contribute financially to the team. He would like to have the financial resourses to take more road trips and compete in bigger tournaments.

“It takes about $10,000 a year to run the team,” Simon said. “It would be nice to have a little more money to do more things with. It would be nice to provide the players with some more exposure.”

The U.S. Open begins with three days of round-robin competition between teams within a 200-mile radius of Gardnerville. Teams outside the area begin play on Aug. 12. The division winners play a single-elimination tournament Aug. 17 and 18.