Opening night is here

NILES – During the Mahoning Valley Scrappers annual media day on Saturday, temperatures reached 80 degrees at a sun-drenched Eastwood Field.

Local reporters took advantage of the warm weather and dressed down in shorts. Scrappers players probably would’ve liked to ditch the required polyester uniforms for their swim trunks.

Not Luis Lugo.

The 19-year old Barquisimeto, Venezuela-native sported a blue Under Armour long-sleeve turtle neck under his white jersey and nearly shivered as a short breeze came through.

“It’s cold, man,” Lugo said. “I’m not really used to this yet. In Venezuela, we’re used to temperatures over 100 degrees all the time.”

For the past two years, he’s played at the Cleveland Indians training site in Arizona where an 80-degree day would be welcomed once in a while, too. He’ll have to adapt to the new northeast Ohio climate and a jump in competition when he takes the mound tonight at 7:05 as the Scrappers opening day starter against the Jamestown Jammers.

“It was a nice surprise when they told me (I’d be starting),” Lugo said. “There’s a lot of good pitchers here. I obviously wanted to get the ball first on the first game, but it feels cool to actually get the chance.”

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound left-hander pitched 42 innings last season with 51 strikeouts. He tallied a 2-4 record with a 4.50 ERA. Lugo surrendered just four home runs, walked 21 batters and had one wild pitch.

“He’s got good stuff,” manager Ted Kubiak said. “It’s a very methodical approach. If he can keep the ball down, he’s going to be good.”

Kubiak went as far as comparing Lugo to former Major League pitcher and five-time World Series champion Andy Pettite.

“That’s a great honor,” Lugo said. “I’m still young and have a long way to go but that’s a great comparison. Pettite had a great career.”

Growing up, Lugo was fond of fellow left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson. Currently, his idol is Felix Hernandez, the reigning Cy Young winner with the Seattle Mariners. “King Felix” hails from Valenica, VZ.

“Baseball is huge in Venezuela and it’s encouraged to play when you’re very little,” Lugo said. “I started training to be a professional when I was 14.

“This is what I love to do. I love that this is my job. What can be better than playing professional baseball for a living?”

Tonight begins the 15th season in Scrappers history and the fifth-straight year they’ve faced the Jammers on opening night. In the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a two-year affiliation contract with Jamestown, a former Miami Marlins farm team.

The past two opening day’s have averaged 5,275 fans at Eastwood Field. New Scrapper Caleb Hamrick hopes to see that repeated tonight.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing some fans,” he said after spending a year in Arizona. “I haven’t played in front of fans since high school. I want a big crowd because nothing beats a great baseball atmosphere on a summer night. I want to see my team win with the full feel of the crowd, too.”

Hamrick, a 19-year old right hander from Cedar Hill, Texas was an eighth round draft pick in 2012. He looks to get the start on Tuesday.