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After 610 days, the Louisville Bats are back with a veteran group

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 5/3/2021 Hayes Gardner, Louisville Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE — Pat Kelly was introduced as the Louisville Bats’ new manager in 2018 and served 10 games in that role before being promoted to Cincinnati Reds bench coach following a shuffling of the big league club’s staff.

He was then, once again, announced as the Louisville Bats manager ahead of the 2020 season and in Feb. 2020, was introduced to approximately 200 fans at a “Skipper Showcase” event at Slugger Field.

“Seems like just a couple of years ago we did this before, but I promise this summer, I’ll stay here all year,” he said then. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

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At the time, though few were aware of it, the coronavirus had already touched down in the United States. A month later, American sports were put on hold, and that pause lasted for the entire minor league baseball season; the Bats did not play a game in 2020 and a year-and-a-half after being re-announced as Louisville's manager, Kelly has yet to manage a game in his return to Louisville.

So after an interrupted start to the season in 2018, and a total cancellation in 2020, Kelly and the Bats are hoping this season will be smoother. He’ll soon manage the Bats for the first time in his new tenure.

“I’m hoping the third time’s the charm,” he said Monday. “I’m a little bit worried because every time I come to Louisville, something happens and I don’t stay. Fortunately, I think this year we’re going to be able to play this thing out, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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Baseball scrimmages were played at Slugger Field during the month of April, but they were not official Louisville Bats games. And so, for the first time in 610 days, the Bats will play an official game Tuesday night, hosting the Columbus Clippers at 6:30 p.m.

Opening night promotions include postgame fireworks, a $2 domestic beer special from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and $1 hot dogs, soda and popcorn.

Reserved seats were sold out for Tuesday’s game as of Monday afternoon, but standing room was still available. The team will be home each day until Sunday, before going on the road. They’ll then be back for two weeks beginning May 25.

Kelly said there’s an extra excitement for this year’s Opening Day, given that there wasn’t one at all in 2020.

“Spending the whole summer at home (was) not my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I’ve been on the road my whole life. This is my 49th year in pro baseball, so I really don’t know any better. And I know my wife definitely didn’t like me being home that much.”

Of the 30 players announced to the Bats’ 2021 roster, 21 have played in MLB, including 11 with more than a full season of big league experience. Kelly pointed to his pitching staff as particularly veteran.

“This is the first time ever I’ve had a pitching staff that everybody on the staff, almost, has major league experience,” he said.

While some of the Cincinnati Reds top prospects will start the year at Double-A Chattanooga — like 2019 first-round lefty Nick Lodolo, shortstop Jose Garcia, and flamethrower Hunter Greene — and may later end up in Louisville, three of the organization’s top 25 prospects, per Baseball America, will begin the season with the Bats.

Right-handed pitcher Tony Santillan (ranked No. 9), who, at 24 years old is the youngest on the roster, right-handed pitcher Vladimir Gutierez (No. 14) and outfielder TJ Friedl spearhead the prospects in Louisville.

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Things will be a bit different for the Bats this year than normal. A limited amount of fans will be permitted at Slugger Fields, and after more than two decades in the International League, Louisville will now play in the Triple-A East following the restructuring of the minor leagues.

However, an official game will be a welcomed site for Kelly, he said, after missing it during the 2020 season.

“I just think when you’re used to going to the ballpark at a certain time every day and working through the night and all of the sudden you’re sitting on the couch and you’re deciding how you’re gonna spend the rest of your day,” he said, “I think I just missed the daily activity at the ballpark, the camaraderie being around the players.

Louisville Bats 2021 Opening Day roster

*40-man roster

Pitchers


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Tim Adleman

R.J. Alaniz

Brad Brach

Shane Carle

Brandon Finnegan

Edgar Garcia

Vladimir Gutierrez*

Riley O’Brien*

Josh Osiich

Cionel Perez*

Hector Perez*

Tony Santillan*

Braden Shipley

Bo Takahashi

Art Warren*

Catchers

Rocky Gale

Chris Okey

Beau Taylor*

Infielders

Brantley Bell

Cheslor Cuthbert

Michael De Leon

Mike Freeman

Errol Robinson

Alfredo Rodriguez

Max Schrock*

Outfielders

Nicky Delmonico

TJ Friedl

Scott Heineman*

Mark Payton*

Dwight Smith Jr.

Hayes Gardner can be reached at hgardner@gannett.com; Twitter: @HayesGardner.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: After 610 days, the Louisville Bats are back with a veteran group

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