FARMINGTON — The summer sprint to determine the Connie Mack World Series host team has already begun.
Nine teams are slated to compete for the next two months in the Farmington Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack summer city league. Games played in the regular season will determine seedings for the city tournament. The winner of the city tournament will host the 2013 Connie Mack World Series to be played Aug. 2 to 9 at Ricketts Park in Farmington.
"We have a good squad, but it is going to be competitive this year," said Adam Morrissey, head coach of the two-time defending city tournament champion Strike Zone Cardinals. "Naa'taanii is always tough and the Durango teams are tough this year, too. We feel like we have a good chance to win the tournament, but nothing is for sure. We will have to earn our spot just like every other year."
The Cardinals are one of a few teams that return from recent years, along with Naa'taanii out of Gallup and local high school developmental teams the Rivercats of Piedra Vista and Sting from Farmington High.
The DC MOB also return out of the Durango-Cortez area after finishing second in the city tournament a year ago.
"This is fun. I have been looking forward to this and I am excited," said DC MOB head coach Ponch Garcia. "We will see what happens. We have a different bunch of boys. It is a new era, so we will see."
The MOB are loaded with talent, including left-handed pitcher Clay Miller out of Bayfield, Colo. Miller struck out 12 batters in five innings against the Aces on Wednesday night as the MOB won their season opener 8-0. The MOB will also be led by graduated Farmington High stars Austin Davis, Brad Betz and Frankie Gutierrez.
"Clay is a unique player, and it is nice to have him. I hope I don't lose him is the thing," Garcia said referencing Miller's MLB Draft potential. "I am happy the (Farmington) guys made the choice to play with us. I am the guy who lets them be kids still because they are still young men. They made a good choice, and, hopefully, we can keep doing what we do. I am still waiting on (Colby and Landon) Nelson to decide if they want to play. They are on vacation right now, and I would love for them to come back and play for us. We can make good things happen."
Another team named 4-Corners will come out of Durango this year. The team got off to a quick start on the opening night of the season Tuesday, defeating the Rivercats 15-7 and Naa'taanii 8-2.
Bloomfield has also put together a Connie Mack team for this summer.
Another new team in contention is called the Aces. And a new Gallup-based team has also emerged out of Miyamura High.
Naa'taanii will field just one team after entering two teams into the city league last year.
"We will be a pretty large team, but we are going to try to do split-squad things to get everyone a bunch of games in," said Naa'taanii head coach Tim Campos. "We had enough for two teams, but we want to keep the kids under one coaching staff and keep them together. ... Gallup High and Miyamura have combined to form the Miyamura team, and it is good for them to get a team as well. They are kind of like the Sting or Rivercats where they are developing the young guys in the area where we are still like the Strike Zone Cardinals with the older kids and preparing them more for the college level."
Naa'taanii will feature local players such as Tyson Curley, Randy LePlatt and Drew Bentley of Aztec, as well as Rashaan Sorrelhorse and Jalen Nakai of Kirtland Central.
While several coaches are looking at the DC MOB and 4-Corners teams to be tough to beat this year, the Cardinals are still the favorites after winning the last two years.
Local stars fill the roster, but the Cardinals have also added the services of six imports, including Eastern Arizona College pitcher Indalecio Romo.
"Romo is a pitcher only and is gonna be a guy," Morrissey said. "Mixed with Ian Doughty, Jacy Cave and Matt Huffhines, our pitching is a lot stronger this year than last year."
Also joining Strike Zone are St. Pius' Tristin Rizek and Cody Bower and La Cueva's Conner Calvert. Two players from Las Vegas, Nev., will also join the Cardinals this summer, along with Durango's Ben Wiley and former Durango player Danny Rowley, who played with the Cardinals last year and during the 2011 CMWS.
In a big move on the Cardinals' schedule, the Strike Zone will now play the Albuquerque Baseball Academy 18-and-under team in two series. The first will be held June 11 at Ricketts Park in a three-game series with the ABA and a Grand Junction squad.
ABA and Strike Zone will also play in Albuquerque on June 19. The games will be an epic clash of the best of Farmington against the best of Albuquerque.
"I know Ryan Brewer at the ABA really well, and we started working together for a Justin Solomon camp in the winter. After getting the ABA kids here to the Strike Zone, things kind of escalated. This is the first time the two teams have ever played, and we are very excited to have them playing each other in New Mexico for the first time," Morrissey said.
John Livingston covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.