COLLEGIATE BASEBALL: Dans are ready to kickoff 2024 season

May 28—DANVILLE — The official start of summer is here tonight at Danville Stadium.

The Danville Dans begin their 36th season of baseball and it's 15th as members of the Prospect League with a 6:30 p.m. contest at the Normal Cornbelters.

"I'm ready to rock and roll," said Danville Dans manager Eric Coleman, back for his 11th season.

So, why does Coleman keep coming back to Danville?

"I can't leave, it's family," he said. "Everyone in the community has been great to me and it's always good to come back every summer.

"We have been fortunate enough to have some really good players over the years and some really good coaches. This year is no different."

And the Danville fans already know what kind of baseball that Coleman wants to play.

"We are going to run and put pressure on the defense," he said. "I also really like the arms that we have coming in this summer. I think we have some power arms and I believe that's what wins at this level."

Coleman should know, the Dans are 314-227 in his 10 previous seasons with the collegiate summer league team.

But, unlike some other teams, Danville has only one player (Nate Vargas) back from last year's team.

"We basically have the same schools, but they want to send different players here each year to get this experience," Coleman said. "And we have added a few new ones."

Coleman and Vargas are not the only two returning this season, former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk is back for his third season with the Dans.

"That's one best parts for me and the players that we have this season," Coleman said. "Our guys are going to be able to soak in 57 years of college basketball knowledge. There is a reason that he is the godfather of college baseball."

Who are some players to watch?

"Taft Middleton is a high schooler, but he is a big-time player," Coleman said. "He is signed with Auburn and he is a top-100 recruiting prospect out of Georgia.

"Michael Ryan, an outfielder from Folsom Lake College, will be a power-four recruit," Coleman said. "I'm sure a lot of schools will be trying to recruit him this summer."

Coleman also noted that his three catchers, including Josh Davis from St. Leo, are very experienced.

"Davis is a junior, while Vargas and Owen Anderson are sophomores," he said. "I like having those kind of guys handling the pitching staff."

Brenden Stressler and Graham Mastros are a pair of freshman from St. Louis University that Coleman is looking forward to having on this roster.

"I think they are going to have good summers," he said. "They are the future of the St. Louis program."

This year's roster also features a player with a local connection.

Meade Johnson, a junior from the University of Maryland, is a native of Mattoon and his father is Lake Land College women's basketball coach Dave Johnson, a former standout at Rossville-Alvin and he is the nephew of Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin girls track coach Susan Kentner.

"Julio Godinez (baseball coach at Lake Land) is the one that got me connected with Meade," Coleman said. "We are going to give him the opening-night start in front of the big hometown crowd."

Tonight's opening game is also the first Two-Buck Tuesday this season at Danville Stadium.

According to Jeanie Cooke, managing partner, the admission for Two-Buck Tuesday will now be $3 but the beverages will remain $2.

"We will always try to keep the prices as low as we can," said Cooke, noting that live bands will perform at least three times this season, including tonight.

Regular admission to a game this year is $8 for adults, while kids 10-and-under are free. Season tickets for all 28 home games are also available for $140.

Cooke notes the league has expanded this year, adding the Full Count Rhythm — a team based in Hendersonville, Tenn., while the old Quincy Gems franchise has been sold and moved to Huntingburg, Ind., playing as the Dubois County Bombers, a original member of the Prospect League.

"Our league continues to grow. We go from Pennsylvania to Missouri and from Tennessee to Iowa," Cooke said.

The Chillicothe Paints are the two-time defending champions of the Prospect League.