WHEELING - Mike McLeod, one of the storied athletes in the history of Wheeling Park, could hardly wait for his debut as baseball coach at his alma matter.
''There is no place like home and I am excited that (principal) Bernie Dolan and the Board of Education gave me the opportunity to see what I can do," said McLeod, still the only Patriots athlete to achieve first team all-state laurels in three sports (football, basketball and baseball).
McLeod's optimism about the upcoming season is based on his assertion that the cupboard wasn't left bare by Chad Stout, who resigned last summer to spend more time with his young family.
During the 2011 season, McLeod had an opportunity to work up close with Park's younger kids while coaching the jayvee squad. The warm temperatures early in the month was even more helpful for the former Oakland Athletics farmhand.
''The weather was good enough early to allow us to go outdoors four or five times the first week," McLeod noted. ''When I see the talent that we have I feel a little bit like a kid in a candy store.''
To be successful, most coaches stress that their teams have to be strong up the middle and this appears to be a Park strength as veteran lettermen return at all those key position.
Andrew Kowalo, a two-year letterman and first-team All-OVAC honoree during his sophomore campaign, will be at shortstop and also serve as the Patriots' No.1 pitcher in the rotation.
Kowalo hit .339 last season with five doubles and 16 RBI in 59 official at-bats. He turned in a 3-2 pitching record with a 2.94 earned run average.
Teaming with Kowalo to form what should be a solid double-play combination is senior second baseman Cameron Amend, a .400 average hitter during his junior year. Also providing strength up the middle will be senior center fielder Dylan Janeczko and catcher J.R.Pyle, also a senior.
Pyle is beginning his third season behind the plate. The Wheeling Jesuit University recruit hit at a .259 clip and has been even more valuable handling the Park pitching staff.
Sophomore Justice Jackson and junior Trevor Stewart are in a battle for the first base job, with junior Nick Harrison and sophomore Matt Hackathorn the top contenders at the hot corner.
Jesse Hartley, another promising junior, can spell either Kowalo or Amend when either one is on the mound. Hartley also could see some time at third base. Hackathorn, the starting catcher on the jayvee squad as a freshman, would be available to spell Pyle behind the dish. Sophomore Austin Schwanenberger is another utility infielder bidding to get playing time.
Flanking Janeczko in the outer garden are senior left fielder Kyler Fitzpatrick and junior right fielder Ethan Jacobs.
Returning junior Zach Drake will back up at all three outfield positions.
Fitzpatrick was limited to playing in just five games and raked enemy pitches for eight hits in 15 at bats (.533) average before being sidelined for the season after being injured in a car accident.
Jacobs hit .246 but showed promise on the hill and he is listed as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
McLeod also listed Fitzpatrick, Amend, promising sophomore Matt Brooks, Jackson, and Stewart as pitching possibilities.
Returning from last season's coaching staff as McLeod's assistant coach is Brad Guckert. Andy Seals and Philip Bledsoe will work with the jayvee squad.
WHEELING PARK 2012 BASEBALL SCHEDULE:
Mar. 24: at Pkb. South (2) noon
Mar. 26: at Wheeling Central5 p.m.
Mar. 27: University 5 p.m.
Mar. 28: Steubenville 5 p.m.
Mar. 29: Morgantown 5 p.m.
Mar. 31: Edison (2) noon
Apr. 2: Brooke 5 p.m.
Apr. 3: at John Marshall 5 p.m.
Apr. 4: at Magnolia 5 p.m.
Apr. 7: St. Clairsville (2) noon
Apr. 9: at University 5 p.m.
Apr. 10: at Morgantown 5 p.m.
Apr. 12: at Steubenville 5 p.m.
Apr. 14: at Cambridge (2) noon
Apr. 17: at N. Philadelphia 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 18: at Brooke 6 p.m.
Apr. 21: OVAC Semifinals TBA
Apr. 23: John Marshall 5 p.m.
Apr. 24: at Oak Glen 5 p.m.
Apr. 26: Wheeling Central5 p.m.
Apr. 28: OVAC Finals TBA
May 1: Magnolia 5 p.m.
Nov. 23: vs. Montana*9:30 p.m.
Nov. 24: Old Spice Classic*tba