Senior, freshman, spark Baldwin’s baseball hopes

BALDWIN — Among the veteran baseball players Baldwin baseball coach Doug Bolles is relying on heavily to make key contributions this season is pitcher Devon Sparks-Burrell.

This marks his fourth baseball season. When he’s not pitching, Sparks-Burrell will play first base.

Last season there were roster struggles, especially with eligibility, Sparks-Burrell recalls.

“This year, we have a lot of young guys who played for local coach Ben Childress,” Spark-Burrell said. “So they’re fundamentally sound.”

Childress coaches the local 4-H team.

“He’s a really good coach,” Sparks-Burrell said. “He has guys that have the fundamentals.”

At the plate, Sparks-Burrell hopes to bat at least .250.

“More than statistics, I just want to help the team with sacrifices and RBIs, stuff like that,” he said, adding that as a pitcher, “my curveball has been breaking a lot lately. My fastball has been all-around and in the strike zone. My change fools a lot of batters and strikes them out.”

The Panthers were outside the first two weeks of the practice season because of the nice summer-like weather.

“It’s been great,” Sparks-Burrell said. “You don’t have to worry about it being cold. It allows us to cut loose a little bit, but not too much. It’s still early.”

The Panthers hope to be competitive in the West Michigan D League.

“We should be above .500,” he said. “We have a good team and a good coach.”

One of the younger players showing bright potential for the Panthers is Damon Nichols a freshman catcher.

Nichols has a background in Baldwin 4-H baseball, where he played several years. He’s been a catcher four seasons. For this spring, he’s looking to catch a lot for the Panthers.

“Stopping the ball,” is a strength as a catcher for Nichols. “My pitchers can give it to me so I really don’t have to worry about them.”

Nichols is confident in his arm on throwing out baserunners and indicated that it’s been a heavy emphasis in practice.

Offensively, “I’m mostly a baserunner and a bunter,” he said. “I’ll hit it.”

The team “is going to be real strong,” he said. “We have a lot of good players and a lot of smart players. We have some good freshmen coming up.”

Having outdoor practices this early in the season, “is very helpful, Nichols said. “It gives us more experience.”

More game experience will help the varsity teams prospects, he indicated.