Bart Zeller hopes to change perceptions about the Frontier League and the loop's local entry, the Washington Wild Things.
"Many people think that the Frontier League -- and the Wild Things -- are 'senior baseball,' and it's nothing like that all," said Zeller, who is in his second year as Wild Things manager. "Washington has good baseball fans. We'd just like to see more of them."
The Wild Things began the season with three successive road losses to the Florence Freedom last week. The team opened the home segment of its schedule with a 10-1 win against the Frontier Greys on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Park in North Franklin.
Zeller and his coaches have assembled a team that features some familiar faces from a year ago along with some new players.
One of the newest acquisitions is Scott Dunn, a native of Clinton, Beaver County, and a South Side Beaver High School graduate who was obtained in a trade with the Traverse City Beach Bums that sent Frontier All-Star third baseman Jovan Rosa to the Beach Bums.
While Zeller hated to lose Rosa, he's pleased that Dunn is a Wild Thing. A 5-foot-11, 195-pound right-hander, he was 15-1 last year for the Beach Bums and finished the year with a 2.61 ERA. He was the starting pitcher for the East Division All-Stars in the 2013 Frontier League All-Star Game that was played at Consol Energy Park.
Dunn had the unusual circumstance of being the team's opening day starter in both the road opener at Florence and Tuesday night at home against the Greys.
"Scott brings a great deal of leadership to the team," Zeller said. "He won 15 games last year and was the league's pitcher of the year. Will he win 15 this year? Maybe not, but we think he can win nine or 10 games, and that's what we'll need out of him."
Zeller said Dunn is part of a solid starting rotation joined by Chris Phelan, Tim Flight, Shawn Blackwell and Alex Kaminsky. Phelan, Blackwell and Kaminsky -- like Dunn -- are right-handers. Flight is a left-hander.
Although it's still early in the season, Zeller has no complaints with his starting pitchers.
"I like our rotation a lot," he said. "We're much deeper this year than we were a year ago. These guys find the strike zone and they do have command of their primary and secondary pitches. That allows us to rely on good defense."
There's been some changes in the coaching staff. Bob Bozzuto, the highly successful athletic director at North Allegheny High School, will rejoin the team after he's recovered from triple-bypass surgery.
"When we heard about this, all of us were shocked," Zeller said. "Not only does he have a lot of experience, he has great people skills."
New to the staff are pitching coach Kevin Gryboski and hitting coach Bob Didier.
"Kevin pitched with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz with the Atlanta Braves," Zeller said.
Gryboski spent three seasons with the Braves and parts of two seasons with the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals.
"He comes to us with knowledge and experience," Zelller said. "With Kevin here, it will make our pitching staff stronger."
Didier spent five years in the majors from 1969 to 1974 with the Atlanta Braves, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox. In his rookie season with the Braves, Didier appeared in 114 games and helped the Braves win the National League West Division title.
"He has a work ethic second to none," Zeller said. "He's at the ballpark at 8:30 in the morning and doesn't leave until 8 p.m.. These two gentlemen -- along with myself -- know what it takes to get from the minor leagues to the majors.
"We are about winning, but we want these kids to move up and get into affiliated baseball."
Zeller, though, knows that the Wild Things fans want to see championship pennants flying above Consol Energy Park.
"I won't talk about championships, but I know we will be in every game and that the playoffs are our goal," he said. "These fans deserve a good team, and it's our objective to put a first-class team on the field that the fans can be proud of."