Sod Poodles open 2022 at home amidst more normal circumstances

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Manager Shawn Roof begins his second season with the Amarillo Sod Poodles. [John Moore/ For Press Pass Sports]

By Lee Passmore

In the fourth year which affiliated baseball has been back in Amarillo after a 37-year absence, things will be “normal” for a second time in the history of the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

After covid wiped out the entire minor league baseball season in 2020 and compacted the schedule in 2021, the Sod Poodles will play a traditional 140-game schedule in 2022 starting Friday evening. And for the first time in franchise history, they’ll host the season opener, as they’ll entertain the Midland RockHounds at 7:05 p.m. to start a three-game series at Hodgetown.

Not only that, but the Sod Poodles will be back playing in what’s been known for over a century as the Texas League. Last year, the league was christened Double A Central but it has returned to the Texas League moniker while maintaining its Class AA affiliated status.

What will remain the same from last season is manager Shawn Roof, who return as skipper of the Sod Poodles for a second straight year. Earlier this week, Roof and the Sod Poodles, 17 of whom played at least briefly in Amarillo last season, got used to playing at Hodgetown in time for the season opener.

“It’s a beautiful ballpark and the guys are excited to be here,” Roof said. “The guys who are new here are in awe of how beautiful this place is. We just can’t wait to get after it on Friday night.”

Those who are familiar with the three-year old stadium in downtown Amarillo know that big offensive nights can be a trademark depending in which way the wind blows. Traditionally, the wind comes out of the south, favoring balls hit to left field.

Fans gathered around Bar 352 beyond the left field fence know that on favorable wind nights getting souvenir home run ball is a distinct possibility. Roof knows after last season that can be both a blessing and a curse.

“The wind factor is huge,” Roof said. “We talk about executing. Don’t get out of your approach as a position player. If the wind is blowing out to left, don’t try to pull if you’re a right-handed hitter.”This year’s version of the Sod Poodles will start the season with nine of the top 30 prospects from their parent club Arizona Diamondbacks as ranked by the MLB Pipeline website. Six of those prospects played at least some of last season in Amarillo.Like the beginning of last season, the outfield could be considered the strength of the Soddies. Three of their four outfielders, Dominic Fletcher, Dominic Canzone and Eduardo Diaz, saw some action of the team last season.Fletcher, a left-handed hitter, batted .264 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs last season, playing a full season for the Sod Poodles. He learned how fickle conditions at Hodgetown can be.“This ballpark is different from a lot of ballparks you might play at,” Fletcher said. “The wind kind of changes. Usually it’s going out but sometimes it’s coming in and you’ve got to take that into consideration, especially in the outfield.”The one new outfielder for the Soddies is considered the team’s top prospect. Corbin Carroll, a first-round draft pick by the D-Backs in 2019, is the organization’s No. 2 prospect and is the No. 19 prospect in all of baseball.Carroll was limited to seven games at Class A affiliate in Hillsboro, Ore. last season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He thinks that Amarillo is the perfect spot for him to reset his young career at the plate.“It definitely plays a little bit more toward the hitters than the pitchers with the strong wind,” Carroll said of Hodgetown. “That’s what I’ve heard. I’ve got a bunch of friends who played here last year and they just rave about how fun of a ballpark it is to play in. I look forward to it.”For all that hitters, home or visitors, can fall in love with Hodgetown, pitchers generally don’t claim such affection. A bad pitch to right-hander can result in disaster with the wind blowing out, and when it blows in from the north, lefties can take it to the Jetstream over the short right field fence.Roof thinks pitching is Hodgetown is like real estate: It’s about location, location, location.“If you’re a pitcher and you make pitches, you’re going to have success,” Roof said. “If you don’t execute and you make mistakes, they’re going to make you pay for it. Control what you can control and if you take care of yourself good things can happen.”Right-hander Drey Jameson probably knows that lesson better than anybody else on the staff. Jameson, the No. 6 prospect for the Diamondbacks, appeared in eight games for the Sod Poodles last season, posting a 3-2 record and most impressively, striking out 68 batters in 46 1/3 innings.“You can’t take a pitch off here,” Jameson said of Hodgetown. “There’s balls that fly out of here like no other. It’s just trying to get in on guys where their bats can’t get extended and try to just get soft contact. At the end of the day you’ve got to throw the ball over the plate and get outs.”Jameson headlines a pitching staff which includes fellow right-handed starters Bryce Jarvis, Brandon Pfaadt and Matt Tabor, all of whom pitched in Amarillo last season. A fifth righty, Slade Cecconi, is the Diamondbacks’ No. 11 prospect and had 63 strikeouts in 59 innings last season in Hillsboro.That staff could be the most solid piece of the foundation to build for a successful season.“I really like the depth of this team from the top to the bottom,” Roof said. “Our pitching staff are five really good starters and a really good bullpen with some big league experience who’ve played Triple A or Double A so they’ve been here before. We have a lot of veteran arms.”They’ll have to throw the ball more quickly thanks to some new minor league rules. A pitch clock will be enforced, with pitchers having to deliver a pitch within 14 seconds with no one on base and within 18 seconds with runners on base. Hitters have to be ready to hit in the box with nine seconds left on the timer.Pitchers will be limited to two pickoff attempts or stepoffs during a plate appearance. Anything over that will be considered a balk.Base sizes will also be expanded from 15 to 18 inches. There will also be defensive restrictions on “the shift” with two infielders each required on both sides of second base.The series with Midland continues Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and concludes Sunday with a 1:05 p.m. start at Hodgetown. After a series at Tulsa, the Sod Poodles will return home April 19 to open a six-game series at Hodgetown against the San Antonio Missions.

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