Pipeliners will make debut Thursday

By Steve Sell
May 30, 2018

It started with a name.

Then came the stadium.

And finally the players.

With all that in hand, outstanding college baseball will be making an appearance in McPherson throughout the summer.

The McPherson Pipeliners, a member of the KCBL (Kansas College League Baseball), will make their debut on Thursday at Tiger Stadium, formerly known as Light Capital Diamond.

The Pipeliners will host the Haven Warhawks at 7:00 for a single, nine-inning game. Admission to all games this season is free, thanks to the sponsors the team has secured. The team also is scheduled to be home on Saturday to play Great Bend before going on the road for a week.

Former Moundridge High school star Caleb Hartman, who later played at Pratt Community College and McPherson College, is the team owner and has signed a three-year deal with the KCBL and National Baseball Congress as he says this is a long-term endeavor. He’s greatly helped by Chad Pinson, who will serve in a number of capacities, including assistant coach and fund-raising.

Hartman is hoping for a big crowd. There's been an underlying buzz about the team and the curiosity factor alone should attract the casual baseball fan. 

There’s some local flavor with former McPherson High stars Cody Starkel (now at Fort Hays) and Marcus McDaniel (Neosho County). Two McPherson College players (Tyler Dunn and Grant Newton) and one from Central Christian College (Troy Carrigan) give the team more of a local feel.

"We got lucky with Starkel and McDaniel," Hartman said. "Cody has played at Fort Hays, which is always a good program. Marcus played at Neosho, which is a top team every year."

Hartman took over as head coach of the Wichita Marlins during last season. He wound up purchasing the team and moved it to McPherson as he believes the city is ready for some top-notch summer baseball. Then came finding a stadium and a deal was worked with Central Christian College to play on its home field.

"I think McPherson is a great support community," he said. "We've had great sponsorship support. Without them, this wouldn't be possible."

Once Hartman lined up the stadium, he set out to fill his roster.

"My big thing was you've got to sell yourself," he said. "I'm not a big salesman. But I love the game and it's easy to pitch something you love."

Hartman will have three players from his Marlins team from last year and hit a home run with Northern Oklahoma College of Tonkawa, one of the top Division II juco programs in the country. The Mavericks have been nationally ranked the last three years and Hartman will have at least seven of those players on his roster.

Through countless phone calls, email work and word of mouth, Hartman has put together a solid roster of 36 players. They do have to pay a fee to play for the team, but many sponsorships have helped with equipment and uniforms. He wants the team to look like a first-class organization on the field and hopefully the play will reflect that.

Most of the Pipeliner players are from junior colleges as Hartman has experience at that level and knows first-hand the work ethic those players possess. He has players from as far away as Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Arizona, California and Michigan.

A great help has been the team's host family program. Families from McPherson, Moundridge and Lindsborg have taken in players for the summer. All Hartman asks is that these families treat the players like family members and provide a roof over their heads and occasional meals. In turn, the players are required to be respectful of the families just as they would respect their parents.

The Pipeliners will have tough competition in their league, which once was the old Walter Johnson League. The Wellington Heat have proven a team can succeed in a town similar in size to McPherson as they have been a national power in recent years.

Other teams are the Kansas Cannons, Valley Center, Park City Rangers and Clearwater Outlaws.

Most of the Piperliner games are single, 9-inning affairs, with an occasional twinbill. Hartman said because the team will be playing almost every night once June arrives, pitching will be important. He says he has about 15 players who can toe the rubber.

"Pitching is going to win championships," said Hartman, who has former McPherson College standout Taylor Werts as his pitching coach. "Pitching will make or break us. The hitting is there and the defense is there."

Hartman said he didn't look for pitchers who can throw it 90 mph-plus, but those who can throw strikes.

"I love ground-ball pitchers, I like doubleplays," he said. "I want guys who won't walk hitters."

Hartman said wins and losses won't be the ultimate measuring stick for success.

"How do you measure success?" he said. "I think we're already successful. We've made something out of nothing. But I'd love to make the national tournament."

See more about the Pipeliners at their website — mcphersonpipeliners.com or check out their Facebook page.