E.A. Sports Today

Getting ready

Monsters to hold three-day mini-camp this week at Choccolocco Park in run up to exhibitions, season opener June 3

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Steve Gillispie has never been to the first day of spring training but he has been in on the first meeting of college fall baseball practice and he suspects it’ll be a lot like that Wednesday when his Choccolocco Monsters get together for the first time.

Weather permitting, the Monsters will hold the first of three workout days at Choccolocco Park in advance of three exhibition games before opening their inaugural Sunbelt Baseball League collegiate wood-bat season June 3.

While it will take on an air of the first day of school it will be a little different than that first fall meeting, however, in the sense it will be the first time this collection of college and college-bound players will be together as a team.

“We’ll try to get some basic signs in, get some guys back swinging wood, get them to know each other and me to get an idea of how they are,” said Gillispie, the Monsters’ field manager, back on the field after recent coaching stints at Jacksonville State and Youngstown State. “I’ve been able to see some of them work out, I’ve caught a game, saw them in a cage, I know who they are.

“You do want to have good chemistry in the summer so a lot of that is getting guys off on the right foot to know each other and learn a little bit about each other. Several of the Oxford kids played together in high school before they went off to whatever their respective school was and they’re coming back so I think that’s a plus.”

The Monsters are expected to have a roster of 27 players, many of them coming from the same college teams so nobody would feel like a complete stranger in the early clubhouse.

The roster is expected to have four players from Jacksonville State, four players from UAB, two from Stetson and several who played their high school ball in Calhoun County, including Brennan McCullough (Oxford/Murray State), the franchise’s first commitment, Sean Smith (Piedmont/Wallace State) and Jake Spivey (White Plains/Oxford/AUM).

The game and skill level they’re expected to bring is something that should impress local baseball fans who have gotten a steady diet of high school ball at the Signature Field. The Monsters are expecting to have “six or seven” pitchers who can throw in the low to mid 90s with a good breaking ball and several strapping hitters.

“We’re going to pass the eye test, for sure,” Gillispie said. “It’s going to be a different type of cat that is roaming around there than what they’ll see on a daily basis. There are going to be some guys running around who look like big leaguers.”

After the three-day mini-camp, the Monsters will play a pair of exhibition games against the Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots, last year’s league runner-up, in Golden Park Saturday (7:05 p.m.) and Sunday (5:05) and one at Choccolocco Park next Wednesday (7:05) before playing the first real game against the Hoots at home June 3. 

Gillispie, 58, spent 11 years as an assistant at Jacksonville State before taking the Youngstown head coaching job, eventually leading the Penguins to a conference title and their first-ever Division I Regional victory in 2014. 

He’s also managed in two summer collegiate leagues so he understands that landscape and was a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. He is currently the athletics director at a private high school in Carrollton, Ga.

“It’s going to be fun,” Gillispie said. “Summer baseball is a different atmosphere, but with what they’re wanting to do and what the City of Oxford (and) Choccolocco Park is going to do, I think it can be a fun atmosphere.”

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