When the Roswell Invaders step to the plate at the Ramada Inn World Baseball Challenge, a lot of identifiable flying objects could be soaring over the fence at Citizen Field.
The Invaders, who hail from the New Mexico city made famous for its connection to UFOs and alien life-forms, are a ball club with an abundance of power.
"We had the best offensive team in the history of the Pecos League this year," Invaders manager Bryan Kloppe told The Citizen. "We scored the most runs per game all-time, we broke the home run records, the doubles records, slugging percentage, on-base. So we had a really good offensive unit."
The Pecos League is a semi-professional loop that features 10 teams divided into South and North divisions. In the South, Roswell (44-23) was second to the Tucson Saguaros (51-14) in the regular season and lost out to the Saguaros in the division playoff final.
The five-team WBC starts Friday at Citizen Field. In their first game, on Saturday at 4 p.m., the Invaders will play the Kamloops Sun Devils. Other entries are Japan (the team arrived at the Prince George airport on Wednesday afternoon), Canadian Sidearm Nation and the Thurston County Generals of Olympia, Wash.
When it comes to pop at the plate, some of Roswell's big hitters who bat from the right side and can take advantage of Citizen Field's short porch in left field are first baseman Joey Miller (the cleanup hitter, 21 home runs in the Pecos League), outfielder Bobby Webb (19 home runs), catcher Jim Smith and outfielder/third baseman Gavin Lavallee. Kloppe, however, said the lineup is stacked with left-handed hitters so most of the Invaders' homers tend to leave the park on the right side.
Other key members of the Invaders include catcher/third baseman Cody Coffman, the reigning MVP of the Pecos League, shortstop Brett Balkan and outfielders Cody Bishop and Kaohu Gaspar. Coffman, from Cape Coral, Fla., was the highest-rated hitter in the league (22 home runs, 76 RBI, .418 batting average).
In a tournament format, pitching depth is a necessity and Roswell will have it. The Invaders will bring a staff of about 15 throwers to Prince George, including four pickups from a rival team, the White Sands Pupfish. One of the Roswell regulars, lefty Mike Gomez, is a former member of the Chicago White Sox organization, while young southpaw Tj Pruneda has drawn fan and media interest because of his similarity in style to a Los Angeles Dodgers legend.
"When (Pruneda) pitches, he looks straight into the sky, like Fernando Valenzuela," said Invaders owner and general manager Andrew Dunn, who doubles as director of the Pecos League. "People really follow this guy."
Roswell wasn't initially part of the WBC lineup but accepted an invitation to attend after the Bahamas dropped out in late July because of a shortage of money.
"I understand what (the organizers) are going through up there, and the guys wanted to do it," Dunn said.
Kloppe, whose club is coming all the way from New Mexico via bus, said the players are looking forward to battling for the WBC title.
"We can't wait - it's going to be a great trip," said Kloppe, who pitches professionally in Australia during the North American winter. "I'd like to thank Prince George and the tournament for giving us this opportunity."
Dunn said he doesn't know what to expect in terms of the level of play.
"We might go 0-5, we might go 5-0, we might go somewhere in the middle," he said. "We don't really know what this is but our job is to fill that last spot and compete and play hard for the tournament and the fans and that's what we're going to do."
Single-game tickets can be purchased today and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Citizen Field. As of Thursday afternoon, tickets were no longer available through Ticketmaster.
All games at Citizen Field
Fri., Aug. 12 - Opening ceremony, 7 p.m.
Fri., Aug. 12 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Team Japan, 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 13 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 13 - Thurston County Generals vs. Canadian Sidearm Nation, 8 p.m.
Sun. Aug. 14 - Team Japan vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.
Sun. Aug. 14 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Thurston County Generals, 8 p.m.
Mon. Aug. 15 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.
Mon. Aug. 15 - Team Japan vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.
Tues. Aug. 16 - Thurston County Generals vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.
Tues. Aug. 16 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.
Wed. Aug. 17 - Thurston County Generals vs. Team Japan, 4 p.m.
Wed. Aug. 17 - Roswell Invaders vs. Kamloops Sun Devils, 8 p.m.
Thurs. Aug. 18 - Thurston County Generals vs. Canadian Sidearm Nation, 4 p.m.
Thurs. Aug. 18 - Kamloops Sun Devils vs. Team Japan, 8 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 19 - Thurston County Generals vs. Roswell Invaders, 4 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 19 - Canadian Sidearm Nation vs. Team Japan, 8 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 20 - Bronze-medal game, 3 vs. 4, 2 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 20 - Gold-medal game, 1 vs. 2, 6 p.m.