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A New Season and New Conference for the Crabs

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Like a lot of people, I drive by the empty Arcata Ball Park in the winter months, longing for sunny days at the yard. The Crab Grass Band plays in my head with the cheers of "Tip Tip Hooray," the chanting of "Nanananana BATBOY!" and even our famous hecklers. The promise of summer and Humboldt Crabs baseball brings a smile. Last Friday night, on the final day of May, the North Coast's greatest show on dirt returned for a landmark 80th season and our Crabbies did not disappoint.

Returning for his third year with the team, McKinleyville's own Cameron Saso started on the mound. Pitching on opening night, in front of family and friends at the ballpark he grew up going to, Saso threw five shutout innings and picked up the first win of the summer. He did it in front of a crowd full of kids like he used to be. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

And with that, the 80th season was underway. The Crabs, who usually play independently and host a variety of teams from California, Oregon and Washington are now a part of the Pacific Empire Conference and will participate in conference play with hopes of winning a championship this summer. They will be taking on the Lincoln Potters, the Medford Rogues, the West Coast Kings, the Healdsburg Prune Packers, and the Solano Mudcats. When asked about the new schedule, pitching coach Eric Giacone, who returns for his 11th season, acknowledged it would present some new challenges. "I think it will be more competitive, for sure. We used to have a series or two in a row with competitive teams, then a few where we'd cruise — that won't be the case this summer. I see Healdsburg and Medford are off to great starts. Once we get into conference play, it should be a grind every night."

The Crabs will still host a robust home schedule, which was a concern for locals who are used to the slates of the past, but there will be a couple roadtrips. This just means fewer off days and the inevitable dog days of summer for a team full of players who have already played a full college season. After getting through what is always a whirlwind first week, head coach Robin Guiver is ready to settle in and get in the swing of the summer. "With the college playoffs wrapping up, we still have four or five guys that will be joining the team in the coming weeks to get us to full strength. We have a couple of arms that will really add depth and round out our pitching staff, which will be great because we are not going to have a lot days off. We are still piecing things together, trying to define roles and really just settle in. Guys are learning about the town, where to get groceries, food, new weather, learn each other, so that's all just part of the first week."

Giacone echoed his head coach's sentiments, saying, "It's just about the guys settling in and coming together."

The first few games were a mixed bag for the Crabs and, after dropping Friday's series opener to the Fresno A's 6-2, they found themselves sitting at 3-2 to start the season with two pivotal and tone setting games remaining in the weekend. On Saturday night, the bats would come alive. The Crabs put up 11 runs on 13 hits behind early season offensive stand-out Javier Felix. Felix, who already has a bit of a blue collar cult following for sporting one farming glove instead of batting gloves, further endeared himself to the Crabs' faithful with a three-hit, five-RBI performance that featured his second homerun of the summer. Troy Harding added three hits and four RBIs to pace the good guys and provide more than enough insurance for starting pitcher Caleb Ruiz, who would dominate for six frames, allowing one run and striking out eight. Hayden Bode took the ball from there striking out five, while allowing just one run over three innings of relief.

The bullpen has been a big bright spot early on and will likely be leaned upon this summer with the new schedule and format. With players coming to the Crabs after a full season already, fatigue and player safety are factors, especially with pitchers. "Priorities 1, 2 and 3 with me are getting players home and back to their schools healthy and ready to go for next season," said Giacone. "But I think we have a lot of great depth, and we still have a few showing up. Our bullpen has been great and, besides an inning or two, so have the starters."

Sunday's action would not disappoint. Near perfect weather and a large crowd sprinkled with fairy dust from the Fairy Festival on the plaza would pave the way for another offensive explosion from the Crabs. Javier Felix continued his hot start with two more hits and an RBI. Billy Ham had two hits, including a double and two RBIs, and sweet-swinging lefty Trent Keys got on the board with his first homerun of the summer. Starting pitcher Nolan Long would do what all good starters do; after giving up a run and dodging some bullets in the first two frames, Long settled in and got better as he went, carving up the Fresno lineup while striking out six batters over five solid innings. The southpaw picked up his second win of the summer following last week's win against Seals Baseball, in which he gave up one run over five innings while striking out seven. He's dealing, folks.

The Crabbies are back in action this week against Berkovich Honor before starting a weekend set with the Novato Knicks. All game times are at 6:30 p.m., with the exception of the Sunday, June 16 (Tie-Dye Day), day game, which will start at 12:30 p.m. The Crabs hit the road after that, so make sure to get out to the yard this week.

Heckles of the Week

To a curly-haired opposing pitcher: "You look like a poodle," and, "You look like you wear cargo shorts."

To No. 5 on the Fresno A's n second base: "Five, your fly is down!" and, "Made you look Five!"

Welcome back and go Crabs, go.

Follow this summer's coverage of Crabs Baseball home games at northcoastjournal.com.

Brandon Dixon (he/him) is is a former All American who played college baseball for Orange Coast College, Point Loma Nazarene and the Peninsula Oilers. Husband and father to two little girls, he's also the host of The Brando Show podcast.

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