MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: RockHounds ready to play ball

A year ago, Midland RockHounds pitcher Kyle Friedrichs needed to figure out what to do with his time.

He would normally start preparing for his upcoming season, but those plans were scrapped when MiLB canceled its 2020 campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friedrichs decided to split his time between training and a full-time job.

It was a productive time for the pitcher where he managed to pay off his student loans, but he’s ready to get back on the mound for his team.

The RockHounds will start the 2021 season Tuesday with a six-game road series against the Frisco RoughRiders at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

Friedrichs said he’s excited to get in some game action.

“Even in spring training, throwing for the first time, it was like the adrenaline was through the roof,” Friedrichs said. “It was almost like the first time doing it.”

Like many teams across the nation, the RockHounds will see some changes.

Among those is a new, but familiar face, in the dugout.

Bobby Crosby will make his managerial debut with the team in 2021, marking his second stint with the team. He was on former manager Scott Steinmann’s staff in 2019.

He also played for the franchise in 2002.

Crosby, who was named MLB American League Rookie of the Year in 2004, was set to manage the Stockton Ports last year until the season was canceled.

The new manager said adjusting to his new role has been smooth so far.

“Everyone’s just looking forward to playing, I’m looking forward to getting going and starting to manage,” Crosby said.

Keeping players focused on the daily grind and learning the small details of his job have been priorities for Crosby in the offseason.

RockHounds returners like Friedrichs and third baseman Jonah Bride are familiar with Crosby and his style of coaching. Both players believe he’ll have a positive impact on each roster member.

“He’s great, everyone loves playing for him,” Bride said. “He wants to play the game hard and the right way. I think we got a good group of guys that are ready to do that.”

Friedrichs described Crosby as a “player’s manager.”

This year’s minor league schedule will also see some slight alterations. The RockHounds and other MiLB teams will play six-game series designed to reduce travel and expenses.

One that remained constant for the Midland franchise is its players’ excitement and willingness to get out on the field. Friedrichs has spent time establishing his pitching routine ahead of the 2021 season opener.

Bride said the team has worked on live game situations to stay sharp before its first road trip to Frisco.

“Nothing compares to a season where you’re out there grinding every single day,” Bride said. “There’s nothing like it.”

Crosby will go into his first season as a manager with the expectation to win. He wants to see his coaching staff help its players grow as athletes and people, with roster members making forward progress as the year moves on.

>> Follow Chris Amaya on Twitter at @OA_CAmaya