By RYAN HERMAN
Phillip Loftin had a dream, and that dream is now a reality.
The former East Lincoln High baseball standout is now the general manager and head coach of the upstart Mooresville Spinners, a first-year collegiate wooden bat summer league program in the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League.
Loftin, along with club owner and financial backer John Wilcox, dreamed up the idea of bringing a collegiate wooden bat team to the area “a year and a half ago,” Loftin said. Once the team was approved and all the paperwork filed, Loftin found himself as the Spinners’ general manager in charge of business operations and marketing, and will also be the one calling the shots come game time.
“It’s kind of my baby. That’s why I’m the GM and I’m coaching,” he said.
The Spinners, part of the nine-team league based in North Carolina and Virginia, will open their season at home –– Moor Park in Mooresville –– on Saturday at 7 p.m. against the defending league champion Kernersville Bulldogs.
And, as an expansion team, the Spinners are expected to win. A lot.
“The funny thing is, one person we heard is we’re the team to beat,” Loftin said. “I think we have a good team. I think we’re going to hit the baseball. It’s all going to come down to pitching depth.”
Part of that pitching depth are three local products who are expected to be a big part of the Spinners’ success.
North Lincoln product Jake Cochrane figures to be the opening-day starter, Loftin said, with East Lincoln product Darin Salter and Maiden product Byron Sherrill coming out of the bullpen.
Also on the roster locally is East Lincoln product and starting third baseman Danny Sullivan, and Lincolnton product and starting right fielder Jacob Hoover.
Moor Park hasn’t been a permanent home to baseball in over half a century, so Wilcox, a businessman who’s made his money in the oil and gas industry and also owns the Low Class A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League, has fit the bill for stadium renovations.
Loftin said the club has put in new irrigation systems, built new dugouts and erected a new backstop, among other things, and has plans for more improvements as the season and program progresses.
When the idea for a team started to become more real Loftin said he began “driving around, looking for fields,” and came upon Moor Park, which is owned by the city of Mooresville.
The club secured a lease for the park in early April, and will host 30 games this summer.
Loftin, who also founded and owns the Dry Pond Blue Sox, a group of travel showcase baseball teams for teenagers, left his job after nine years as an assistant coach with Lincoln County Post 455, which last summer made its first trip to the American Legion N.C. state tournament.
Loftin said he will miss coaching at the legion level, but couldn’t turn down a life-long dream.
“It was hard not to do legion ball,” he said. “I’ve helped do legion ball for nine years, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Loftin said the team, which will play a 50-game schedule that includes teams from the Coastal Plain League, is expecting over 500 on Saturday for opening night. Tickets are $5, and concessions are provided.
Loftin said he’s running the club, “just like the Coastal Plain League,” and that the Town of Mooresville, “has been jumping all over this.”
Some of the promotions Loftin has planned for his 30-game home schedule include appreciation nights for teachers, military and emergency response personnel, and a Bark at the Park Night.
Baseball-wise, the objective of such clubs is to, “give kids a chance to play in the summer, and to give kids a chance to use the wood bat and develop themselves for the next level,” Loftin said.
The Spinners, named after the town’s rich heritage in the textile industry, are one of four expansion teams this season, and they were popular with the college players right away.
“We had over 200 applications to play on the team,” Loftin said.