Ask any of the county's baseball coaches which teams will contend for this year's county title and they'll probably name six of the 10 teams -- C. Milton Wright, Fallston, North Harford, Edgewood, Joppatowne and Bel Air.
And not necessarily in that order.
"It's a wide-open race," said Fallston coach Mark Puckett, whose squad stunned defending county champ C. Milton Wright, 15-7, in the season opener.
"The league is very well-balanced this year," said Bel Air coach Mike Ennis. "The last four years, other than C. Milton Wright last year, it seemed like two, three, four losses could have gotten you in the race. It should be that way again this year."
Eachof the top six has a solid corps of returning players, and each one has some decent pitching. Edgewood may have an edge in the pitching department, but it would be hard to tell who has the better offense orthe better defense.
There are a few individuals, however, who could make a big difference for their squads.
Here are the ones to watch:
* Roger Barnes (senior, first baseman, Edgewood) -- At 6-1, 228 pounds, Barnes is the prototype power hitter. Last year, he batted.386 with five doubles and 12 RBI and could easily improve on that. Also solid on defense, he had a .992 fielding average.
* Caleb Brown (senior, outfielder, John Carroll) -- With good quickness and speed, Brown can run down just about anything in the outfield. He also has a rocket arm. Last year, he batted just under .300, but in the Patriots' first two games he went 5-for-7 with two doubles and a triple.
* Craig Carpenter (senior, third baseman, Bel Air) -- An outstanding defensive player, Carpenter is the Bobcats' infield leader. A smart player who makes few errors, Carpenter batted close to .300 last year.
* Jamie Coons (junior, outfielder, Edgewood) -- Coons is the Rams No. 2 pitcher, but his strength is in the outfield. An outstanding fielder, Coons had 15 assists last year. He also batted .412 with nine doubles, five triples and three homers. He drove in 31 runs and stole eight bases. On the mound, Coons struck out 37 in 33 innings andhad a 2.08 ERA.
* Damon Davies (senior, outfielder, Joppatowne) -- Davies will also pitch for the Mariners in about every third game, but his best spot is in center field. Davies gets under the ball quickly. Although he didn't have a great year at the plate last year, he should pick up his average this year.
* Kevin Diaz (senior, shortstop, North Harford) -- A three-year starter for the Hawks, Diaz is anexcellent fielder covering a lot of ground. His fielding average was.906 last year. He also hit .383 as the leadoff batter and stole 16 bases.
* Wade Greason (junior, pitcher, Edgewood) -- This lefty isthe premier pitcher in the league. With an 8-2 record last year, Greason struck out 82 in 64 innings and had a 2.63 ERA. He also doubles as a right fielder and can help his own cause at the plate, where he hit .413 last year and drove in 21 runs.
* Jeff Hawk (senior, outfielder, C. Milton Wright) -- A highly recruited outfielder, Hawk can also hit with power. He batted close to .400 last year. Hawk has started for two years in center. He gets a good jump on the ball and has an above-average arm.
* Johnny Manzari (senior, second baseman, C.Milton Wright) -- An outstanding defensive second baseman, Manzari covers a lot of territory. He has quick double-play hands and takes charge on pop flies. A power hitter, Manzari should improve his averageas he works to cut down the strikeouts.
* Pete McKinney (freshman, shortstop, Bel Air) -- Despite his youth, McKinney already has excelled on the varsity level. In his first three games, he hit .666. He is the fastest player on the Bobcats' squad and covers a lot of ground at short.
* Tim Miller (senior, shortstop, Joppatowne) -- Milleris the glue that holds the Mariners together. A team captain, Millerbatted about .350 last year as leadoff man. He had a high on-base percentage. This year, he has more confidence on defense and should improve his fielding percentage.
* Bill O'Patterson (senior, second baseman, North Harford) -- The other half of the Hawks excellent middle infield, O'Patterson is also a three-year starter. O'Patterson fielded .977 last year and made only one error. At the same time, he hit .364 and drove in 14 runs.
* Brett Seidel (senior, catcher, Fallston) -- Coming off a back injury, Seidel has been taking it easy as designated hitter for the Cougars. He batted .375 last year. But he soon should be back to full strength behind the plate, where his arm holds a lot of runners on first.