CHARLESTON -- In just over a week the Charleston Squirrels will once again invade Hillhouse Park for another season of Senior Babe Ruth Baseball.
Though they only return three kids from last year's team that posted a 24-19 record, the Squirrels won't be short on familiar faces to fans of Southeast Missouri baseball.
"We feel like we lucked out and had some quality players come that were looking for spots to play," Squirrels' head coach Michael Minner said. "I think when we first started we were probably a team that people kind of looked at as a lower-tier team.
"Now we're starting to get some kids that have expectations to be real competitive and get opportunities to play at the next level. I think that speaks worlds about our program and everything that's going on in Charleston."
Those returning from last season include Advance's Ryan Moses, East Prairie's Dalton Golightly and former Charleston Bluejay Ethan Browning.
They'll be joined by some home grown Charleston talent from this past season's Bluejays squad in Trey Watkins, Cole Byford, Michael Baugh. Other locals include Bloomfield's Paul Fox and Travis Phillips, Oran's Zac Chasteen, Dexter's Brad Potts and Logan Northern, Scott City's Ryan Fortner and Greenville's Trevor Bennett, Hunter Norden and Tim Hillis.
"We have a few that are a part of our high school program and we have kids from all over," said Minner. "We have kids from Greenville, Bloomfield and Dexter. You just never know what's going to come out so this year we feel pretty fortunate.
"We feel like this is a pretty good squad that we've put together and we're just going to play the games and see what happens."
Though his team may not stack up with some of the big names on other summer rosters Minner expects a squad that's competitive squad once everything clicks into place.
"You can measure only so much on paper and sometimes the better teams on paper sometimes just don't gel," said Minner. "We feel like we have a pretty decent pitching. We feel like we're going to be pretty solid defensively and that we'll swing the bats. This is probably going to be one of the faster groups that we've had.
"We went out and got some kids that are pretty speedy on the base paths. If we mesh pretty well together and the kids get along like we foresee and hope they get along then it should be a pretty good summer."
After hosting Regionals last year Charleston will once again be hosting the Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament. The last time the Squirrels hosted the state tournament was in 2010 when they finished second to advance to Regionals.
"This year is going to be different," Minner said. "It's going to be a 10-team state tournament. It's actually an open state tournament so we're planning on having ten teams where in the past we usually had seven or eight. A couple years we even had six.
"They've kind of opened it up trying to get more teams and more kids involved. It will probably be a week long event at Hillhouse Park and there's going to be some really good competition.
Minner continued, "You have Chaffee, Jackson and New Madrid, which are traditionally in our league, then this year we're going to add Poplar Bluff and also we're going to add Kennett. Both of their (coaches) are putting together teams and they're going to be solid baseball teams.
"In my nine years this is probably gong to be the absolute best league we've had as far as competitiveness. So it should create a great summer and we're sure excited."
Charleston will kick off its season on May 28 when they travel to Cape Girardeau to play their Legion team at 6 p.m. The Squirrels first home game will be May 30 when they host Sikeston Legion at 6 p.m.