Pitching has been synonymous with success for Seoul American’s baseball team in recent years. Brothers Tristan and Colton Heckerl starred and, more recently, Chung Winchip and Chris Horton helped the Falcons to a surprise title in last May’s Far East Division I Tournament.

Such riches, indeed riches of most types, are somewhat lacking this year in Falcon Country, from where six starters, including three All-Far East performers, departed.

The pitching cupboard, in particular, is “bare,” coach Joel McDonald said. Into that fray will step an old Seoul American war horse, Bob Heckerl, who preceded McDonald in the head coaching post and returns to help develop the next generation of Falcons pitchers.

“That will be a priority,” McDonald said of rebuilding the pitching staff. He does return junior All-Far East selection Aaron Miyagi, senior Justin Outten and sophomores Alex and Blake McDonald at other positions.

“We’ll need to grow up a bit, but I’m excited about this group of players,” McDonald said. “Though we lack pitching experience, we’ll have a solid defense behind whoever is on the mound. And if we learn to hit, we’ll be fine by Far East.”

The Far East tournaments for now are scheduled for May 20-22 at Zama American, though DODDS Pacific is currently seeking a new host for the D-I Tournament due to logistical concerns.

Another reigning champion hit hard by the transfer and graduation rounds is Division II titlist Robert D. Edgren. Its pitching complement saw sophomore and reigning D-II Tournament MVP Leo Austin transfer to Yokota and Christian Wolfewicz graduate, leaving All-Far East junior Tristan Jefferson and a handful of youngsters.

“The majority of the team is made up of new faces (who) are learning to play together as a team,” said coach Brett Lehner, whose Eagles face their usual early season obstacles: Snow, which fell to the tune of 173 inches this year, remains on the ground at Misawa Air Base until late March.

“Development at this point is hard to determine,” Lehner said. “In practice, they show great work ethic and motivation. As a coach, even though we’re a young team, I believe we have the capability to be a contender.”

A contender’s look Zama American and Yokota already possess. The Trojans and Panthers each swept their DODDS Japan season-opening series, with the aforementioned Austin and Kei DePontbriand showing a hot hand for Yokota and newcomers Keanu Cruz and Keiyl Sasano showing promise for Zama.

Perennial contenders Kadena – three times the Far East D-I runner-up – and Kubasaki of Okinawa sport mostly juniors on their rosters, with the Dragons already one up in the Okinawa Activities Council season series after a 6-2 win Saturday. Jared Paul’s transfer from Kadena bolsters Kubasaki’s lineup.

While Randy Toor remains Kubasaki’s coach for an eighth season, Kadena welcomes its sixth coach in eight seasons, Orlando Anaya. Asked if he intends to be the one to at last provide coaching continuity, Anaya said: “That’s my goal. No drama this year. We’ll all be on the same page, players, coaches, parents and administration.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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