New faces and a new place should result in a prosperous season for the two Carroll County teams of the South Penn League.
It may be hard to believe, but the two-time defending champion Taneytown Cardinals have improved themselves over the off-season and are again the heavy favorites to take it all.
The Westminster Elks have added pitching and a new home -- they will be playing their home games at Francis Scott Key. The Elks came on strong in the second half of last season and will build on that finish.
But back to the Cardinals.
Talk to Taneytown manager Steve Bosley about the Cardinals and the first things that come up are pitching and defense.
"If we get our usual pitching and defense, everything else will take care of itself," Bosley said.
Ron Sell and Bryan Harman will anchor a pitching staff that can go seven deep. Sell got the win against New Oxford (Pa.) that
gave the Cards last year's title, while Harman went 10-0 on the season with a stingy 1.31 ERA.
The addition of 35-year-old Bill Swaggerty, who pitched with the Baltimore Orioles for three seasons in the mid-1980s, should further bolster the potent staff.
"I didn't see any sense getting into something I just got out of," said Swaggerty, whose last major league pitching action was with the Kansas City Royals organization four years ago.
"Bryan Harman called me every year asking me to play, and every year I told him 'No' -- except this year."
With the strong cast, Bosley has the luxury of easing Swaggerty into the rotation, but is expecting big things from him as the season progresses.
"He hasn't pitched in four years, so we'll give him some time," Bosley said.
"He was used to throwing every day, and just having practice a couple of times a week is a little different for him. He's got good mechanics and once his arm comes around, he'll help us, no question."
The offense will get a boost as well with Scott Thomson in the lineup the entire season.
Last season, Thomson joined the Cardinals midway through the season and tore up the league.
At the end of summer he played professionally with the Erie (Pa.) Sailors, a Class A independent cooperative team. In 42 games with the Sailors, he batted .300 with seven homers, 16 doubles and 31 RBI.
David Crouse, last year's SPL Player of the Year, also will key the Cardinal attack in the middle of the lineup. Crouse batted .398 last season with 10 homers and 46 RBI.
"It's definitely one of the tougher lineups in the league, top to bottom," Bosley said.
Taneytown's entire infield returns, with Jeff Frock at first, Kenny Keith at second, Matt Bair at third and Brian Walsh at short. Catcher Bruce Rupp returns and is another long-ball threat.
Greg Kirby joins Thomson and Crouse in the outfield, while Steve Insley will be the team's designated hitter.
Newcomer Jeff Wagner, a Liberty High standout now playing at the University of Maryland, will join the club once school is finished. He can play third and second.
The Elks have strengthened their pitching staff this season, and manager Walt VonBussenius Sr. believes the team can improve on last season's 14-18 record.
"We got a lot of hits and runs last season but also allowed a lot of runs," VonBussenius said.
The Elks have added pitchers Wade Smith and Jeff Bruchey to a staff that was coming around at the end of last season.
Smith, who played with the Baltimore semipro team Johnny's last season, also plays shortstop and adds punch offensively. Bruchey joined the Elks after pitching with Cashtown last season.
"The two additions fill two voids for us," VonBussenius said.
"Both are solid pitchers, and Wade really strengthens our middle at shortstop. We're getting close; Taneytown and Cashtown are still the teams to beat but we're gonna give them a run."
Jeff Story, Brad Beck, Rick Reaver and Bruchey will start for the Elks, while Ron Bryson will be the top hurler out of the bullpen. Smith also will start when he's not at short.
The Elks shouldn't have problems scoring this season, either.
Outfielder Mike Murphy and second baseman Denny Snyder key the attack, along with Walt VonBussenius Jr. at first. Smith will add punch, also.
"We're pretty strong eight down," VonBussenius Sr. said.
"Snyder is coming off a good year, and Mike Murphy was our leading hitter. The addition of Wade [Smith] also will be a plus."
The new home will also be a plus.
"I think the new ballpark [at Francis Scott Key] will make a big difference," VonBussenius Sr. said.
"The infield is much smoother and it helps the players' mental attitude. Everyone seems to be happy to be there."