Pit Spitters open 2024 season in Battle Creek on Memorial Day; home opener slated for May 29

May 25—TRAVERSE CITY — The Northwoods League season is here, and the Traverse City Pit Spitters are geared up and ready to make a run at the franchise's third championship in just its sixth season.

"It's the same mindset we've had since year one," Pit Spitters field manager Josh Rebandt said. "Our goal is for the culture of our team to be as elite as possible and for the skill development of these guys as they get ready to be with us for a couple months and then head back to campus."

Rebandt said the hope is always to send the players back to their respective colleges or the next phase in their baseball career as better all-around products than when they arrived. The 2024 squad features a bevy of new players, and that is something that has Rebandt and the rest of the coaching staff chomping at the bit.

"There's a lot of excitement because of those new guys," he said. "I love having returners, but when you have fresh blood and they walk into that stadium for the first time, we all know that the first time we walked in here that this place is pretty incredible. There's that little bit of extra beginner excitement, like deer in headlights."

Rebandt said a part of the player turnover is that previous Pit Spitters aged out of competition and some of the younger players ended up in the Cape Cod League to play summer ball this season.

Rebandt expects that "freshness" on the roster to give the Pit Spitters a "bit of kick" in 2024, but that doesn't lower their goals for the season.

"We want to win this thing," he said. "The city of Traverse City and the community in northern Michigan, they would love to see us win."

Accomplishing that goal means building a solid and positive culture based on improving the skillset of every Traverse City Pit Spitter that steps on the field at Turtle Creek Stadium.

"That's how we've been fortunate enough to win and be in the playoffs and win a couple championships," Rebandt said. "That's the end goal, but it's obviously not the goal. That's the result of what we do over the summer."

The Pit Spitters open play in Battle Creek for a two-game set with the Battle Jacks and MCCU Field, beginning Monday with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch. Opening Day at Turtle Creek Stadium will be Wednesday as the Kokomo Jackrabbits come to town for two games followed by the Kalamazoo Growlers on Friday and Saturday.

"The season feels like the official kickoff of summer for us," Pit Spitters GM Jacqueline Holm said. "Traverse City becomes alive and so vibrant in the summertime. We're thrilled to welcome back fans and even some who aren't so familiar with our product. We want to welcome the tourists here and embrace the locals who have done such a great job of supporting us."

Holm is in her second year as GM for the Pit Spitters, and she feels as if she is in a "much better headspace" than she was a year ago.

"As you can imagine, that first year was like drinking from a firehose for four months before your first season. You don't know the community, and you don't know the players, the facility, the team. It was all so foreign to me," Holm said. "This year, I'm looking forward to having my head on straight and feeling comfortable and confident with the products we're offering to fans and the experience we're bringing to the community."

That includes a roster brimming with talent ready to improve and win.

The pitching staff features several players who are the "aces" or the "1B" of their college programs. Aaron Forrest, Dylan Krause, Ryan Daly, Andrew Herbert and Jagger Neely were just a few of the names Rebandt rattled off during Friday's media day at Turtle Creek Stadium.

"You have to have pitching to win games," Rebandt said, adding that Forrest will get the Opening Day nod on the road against Battle Creek on Monday. "If you can do three things in this league — throw strikes, get weak contact and get swings and misses — you have a really good chance to be a really elite pitcher. If you can do two of those things — throw strikes and get weak contact — you're going to win a lot of games. And if you can just throw strikes, you'll give us a chance to win games."

Rebandt is hopeful the returners, including Forrest, Cole Prout and Michael Tchavdarov, can elevate the leadership in the locker room. Prout and Tchavdorov are the Pit Spitters' only two returning position players, and Rebandt said they will rely on them to show the new guys the proverbial ropes.

"How we run the bases, how we play defense, how we protect against other teams' offenses," Rebandt said. "That'll be a big need from them."

That includes being aggressive when they get on base, taking care of the ball defensively and making the routine plays. That is the brand of Pit Spitter baseball Rebandt would like to see his team play across the Northwoods League this season.

"Even though some of these guys are new to us, they're not new to Traverse City because they've heard or through the recruiting process they know what it takes to be the best version of themselves," Rebandt said. "That's what we're looking for."

The first pitch for Wednesday's home opener is set for 7:05 p.m. Thursday's game against the Jackrabbits is slated for an 11:05 a.m. start.

Be on the lookout for the Record-Eagle's special section on the 2024 Traverse City Pit Spitters coming in June, and follow the Record-Eagle for Pit Spitters coverage throughout the season.