AMSTERDAM - Amsterdam Mohawks coach Keith Griffin may live in Florida during the offseason, but his message to Mohawks fans in upstate New York is clear: "I'm not coming up there to come in second."
That attitude is a big part of the reason why the Mohawks have won championships in three of the four seasons Griffin has managed the team. With the Mohawks season opener fast approaching, Griffin is optimistic about the challenge ahead.
"We're going to build a team that understands what we want done, and if we do that I'd rather be us than them," Griffin said from his home in Florida.
Griffin has made Amsterdam his second home. He feels the people of Amsterdam are a big part of why the Mohawks have enjoyed so much success in recent years.
"I've enjoyed working with Brian [Spagnola] and the people inside the Mohawks do a really good job, but the fan support has just been incredible," Griffin said. "We play in front of nice crowds and that's important to these kids. Fans come out and support us and we have an obligation to put a very good product on the field."
For the 2013 season the Mohawks have added two new assistant coaches to Griffin's staff. Mike Brown, a California native and a product of the University of Kentucky baseball program, is set to begin his first season with the Mohawks. A local man and Scotia-Glenville Hall of Famer, Doug O'Brey, also joins the team.
2013 Amsterdam Mohawks Schedule
While an experienced coaching staff is the first step in Amsterdam's title defense, Griffin says the key this year will be the players. The Mohawks roster will feature more than 20 new faces, with only three players from the 2012 championship squad returning. It is rare for players to spend multiple seasons with the team. According to Griffin, it usually only happens when a player is really comfortable with the situation they are in as a Mohawk.
Chris Kalica, a pitcher from Fairfield University will be back for his second season, along with Brian Ruby, an infielder that has enjoyed success as a starter with SUNY Binghamton the past two springs. The final returner, Ed Charlton from New Jersey Institute of Technology, is a player Griffin feels will be especially important in 2013. Charlton hit .353 for Amsterdam last year and led the team with seven home runs.
"Ed Charlton is back and that's big," Griffin said. "This guy could play anywhere, he just happens to play at New Jersey Tech."
Last year's team featured an exceptional pitching staff, with opponents batting a measly .223 against the Mohawks and striking out 420 times. While Griffin is unsure of how this year's pitchers will fare, he predicts the team will do a lot of damage with the bats in 2013, after hitting .291 and slugging just shy of .400 in 2012.
"We probably won't strike as many guys out," Griffin said. "I think we've got very talented position players."
According to Griffin, past performance is no guarantee for future success. With teams in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League constantly improving year-to-year, the first practice of the season is truly a brand new beginning. Griffin explained the three goals he sets forth at the beginning of each season: to win for the city of Amsterdam, for players to get better, and for nobody to get hurt due to being overworked. As a former college coach, Griffin is all too familiar with players returning to their college teams banged up after being overworked in summer leagues.
Asked about his overall expectations for 2013, Griffin was succinct in his answer: "We expect to be champions."
The Mohawks open their season Wednesday at Albany against the Dutchmen.
Their first home game is slated for the following day at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam versus the Utica Brewers. The following Saturday, after a home game against the Adirondack Trailblazers, the first of five scheduled fireworks displays will light up Shuttleworth Park. The remaining four fireworks displays will happen after games on June 21, July 3, July 5, and July 26.
The Mohawks have also announced three new fan clubs catering to seniors, ladies, and anyone looking to support an incoming Mohawks player for the summer.
The Silver Sluggers Club is for men and women aged 55 and over. For 20 dollars, Club members receive free admission to every "Silver Slugger Night," which will be each Tuesday home game. Members will also receive free coffee and desserts at each Tuesday game, a free club T-shirt, free food and souvenir vouchers, discounted souvenir packages, a pre-game picnic with the players, and a Q & A with coach Griffin prior to the start of a game.
The Diamond Diva Club is for ladies aged 18 and up. Cost of membership is also 20 dollars, and members receive free admission to all "Diamond Diva Nights" at Mohawks games, which are every Tuesday and Thursday. In addition, they will receive drink specials on Thursdays, a free clubT-shirt, free food and souvenir vouchers, discounted souvenir packages, a pre-game picnic with the players, and free clinics with coach Griffin prior to the start of two separate games.
Finally, the Players Support Club is free to join and includes functions including assisting incoming Mohawks in finding jobs, host families, and post game meals. Members of the group will receive a free club T-shirt, free team poster, and a free picnic with the players prior to the start of a game. Anyone interested in any of these clubs can contact Jonathan Kross at 845-532-8353, or by email at JKross@AmsterdamMohawks.com.
For more information about the Mohawks, including the full schedule and a list of scheduled promotions in 2013, visit their website at www.amsterdammohawks.com.