The Licking County Athletics return just four players from last year's team. Only two of them were around when the Babe Ruth 16-18 World Series ended its five-year run in Newark in 2008.

The Licking County Athletics return just four players from last year's team. Only two of them were around when the Babe Ruth 16-18 World Series ended its five-year run in Newark in 2008.

"We're a lot younger than we're used to," coach Rick Houston said. "There's just a lot of young talent in the county right now."

Sponsored in part by American Legion Post 804, the A's were missing six players when practice began last week. Lakewood's Bryan Large and Justin White and Heath's Jordan Crabill, Cole Benner, Derek Yahn and Nate Hunt were all still competing with their high school teams.

The first game is Thursday at Lancaster Post 11, and the home opener is against the North Columbus Bruins at 6 p.m. Friday at Don Edwards Park. The A's also play a doubleheader Saturday at Grove City Post 164.

"The beginning of every season is difficult. Kids have graduation parties, some are just making it home from college and others are still playing in the high school tournament," Houston said. "Hopefully, we'll start to peak about July 5 when we're playing in the holiday tournament down in Lancaster. From there, we hope to be able to keep it rolling for the next five weeks or so."

That would take the A's through the World Series on Aug. 4-12 at Don Edwards Park. The event was played in Newark from 2004-08, but was held last summer in Moses Lake, Wash. The A's also will be competing in the District 6 legion tournament in July.

"The World Series is a unique opportunity and we're glad our kids will be getting a chance to experience that again this year," Houston said.

The Athletics finished 27-9 overall and won last year's District 6 championship. They placed fifth at the state legion tournament won by Sandusky Post 83.

After a long run in Athens beginning in 1960, the state legion tournament will be played in Lancaster this summer.

Tiffin University's Cole Blake and Urbana's Garrett Clark are the team's lone World Series veterans. Blake played at Licking Valley and Clark at Newark Catholic. Also returning from last year's team are Bluffton's Miles Richardson, another Newark Catholic graduate, and Large.

Four others, including Crabill and Hunt, played for the Junior A's team that won the American Legion Junior State Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons last summer. Also playing on that team were Granville's Seth Yoho and Licking Valley's Cory Workman.

Another player to watch is Muskingum's Rob Shaw, who starred at Utica. The 16-player roster is rounded out by Licking Valley's Nick Moore and Tommy Calendine, and Utica's Joe Metzger and Derek Beaver.

"We've got a lot of pitching depth. Out of our 16 kids, 10 or 11 can pitch," Houston said. "We've got three quality catchers, too, and I think our defense up the middle should be pretty strong.

"I really like the makeup of this team a lot. It's a nice blend of kids. Usually, we're always 18-year-olds heavy. This will be a little different."

ĽON THE INTERNET - The team has launched a new website that was constructed and will be maintained by assistant Adam Acuri. The other assistants are Mike Saalfield and Roy Whisner.

Fans can follow the team at www.lcathleticsbaseball.com. There, they will find a complete schedule, pictures, statistics, game locations and other news. There also are pages dedicated to former players, which allows fans to track their progress in college and/or professional baseball.

"It's a pretty cool site," Houston said. "And with the success of (Newark native and current Texas Ranger) Derek (Holland), now we've got A's playing Major League Baseball, too."