Back in the swing of things

MISSION — High school baseball season has officially arrived as teams across Texas returned to the practice field over the weekend.

“Everybody’s excited this time of year. If you go around the Valley, around the state of Texas right now, there’s a lot of optimism, high expectations, just excited to get back at it,” Sharyland Pioneer head coach Casey Smith said.

In 2019, Sharyland Pioneer went 37-9 overall and became the first baseball team from the Rio Grande Valley to reach the UIL state tournament since 2007. In the process, it took down some of Texas’ top teams at the Class 5A level, including two classic battles against District 31-5A rivals Rio Grande City and sister-school Sharyland High in the third and fifth rounds, respectively.

To the right of Sharyland Pioneer’s centerfield wall is a new sign that reads “2019 State Tournament” printed over an outline of the state of Texas and the Diamondbacks’ signature “SP” logo, commemorating their run to Round Rock.

“When people come to our stadium, they’re able to see — ‘wow’ — the accomplishment we made, and that out there gives us confidence knowing that it’s possible and anything can happen,” said Juan Rivera, Sharyland Pioneer’s all-state sophomore second baseman/shortstop.

While the sign at Sharyland Pioneer’s home ballpark makes senior Evan Maldonado proud, it also lights a fire for the University of Houston signee.

“It motivates me because it doesn’t say ‘State Champion,’” said Maldonado, an all-state utility player.

Sharyland Pioneer enters the season ranked No. 6 in Class 5A, according to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll.

“Everything that’s in the past is in the past; this is a brand-new team. As a team this year, we haven’t accomplished anything, so we’re basically coming out everyday trying to be the best we can be and find out how good we can be,” Smith said.

The Diamondbacks opened the first day of the 2020 season with a team BBQ after practice.

“We got to cherish all the moments, especially us seniors because it feels like freshman year was just last year, so we have to cherish these moments and make another run at state,” Maldonado said.

Opening day is three weeks away, and teams across the RGV will go through scrimmage and non-district play leading up to that.

“No. 1 is finding out who’s going to compete, finding out where some guys go. There’s some competition for quite a few spots, so hopefully we can iron those out throughout the scrimmages and non-district games,” Smith said.

Scrimmages are set to start Saturday, with opening day slated for Feb. 24.

Sharyland Pioneer opens its season against Calallen at 6 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Calallen High School in Corpus Christi.

“That’s a state-competitive team right there, so it’s good work before district and we’re looking forward to it,” Maldonado said.