Season Preview: Varsity baseball adjusts to younger roster


Viking assistant coach Chris Coleman gets his players ready by hitting ground-balls at practice.  Coleman said he believes that even though so many seniors have left, they prepared the then-juniors for the leadership needed this year. “The great thing about Palo Alto too is,  after the senior class leaves, they do a good job and making sure that juniors are comfortable and understand kind of the way that they go about the game and go about practice,” Coleman said. (Photo: Shreyas Shashi)

Shreyas Shashi, Reporter

After finishing the 2022 season with a league championship, a California Central Section Division 1 runner-up trophy, and a NorCal State playoff appearance, the Palo Alto High School boys’ varsity baseball team is looking to do it all again in the upcoming 2023 season.

The Vikings lost 11 seniors, including Oakland Athletics draft pick Henry Bolte and University of Arizona second baseman Xavier Esquer, leaving a team with a lot of players who are lacking much varsity experience to carry the load. Nevertheless, varsity head coach Pete Fukuhara said the returners are ready to take on the leadership of the team. 

“We lost 11 guys,  so we’re [a] much different team than we were last year, but we have a nice core,” Fukuhara said. “We have Zach Thom back, Charlie Bates, Russ Filter and Sam Papp. So we’ve got a lot of great baseball players back.”

The Vikings will also have to face the challenge of filling the void that their best pitcher, University of California Davis committed senior Sam Papp is leaving due to a major arm injury.

Papp had the league’s lowest earned run average last year with a 1.76 ERA and was the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation during his junior season.

“It’s not gonna be an easy void to fill,” Fukuhara said. “But in this program, it’s just next man up. We’ll have some guys to step up.”

According to Papp, the team will remain strong even with the youthful shift in personnel, and sustaining a winning environment similar to previous years won’t be a problem. 

“It [this season] is definitely different,” Papp said. “But there’s still a lot of talent. I think there’s nothing that we did last year we can do this.” 

With a number of open spots on the team due to graduates, several underclassmen are preparing to contribute to the varsity team. 

Assistant coach Chris Coleman said it is important for the frosh-soph players to be ready to step up. 

“This year, especially knowing that we were going to graduate that many seniors last year, we had to do a pretty good job of making sure the younger guys [juniors and sophomores from last year’s team] were ready to go,” Coleman said. “And when they have the opportunity to step in that they’re ready to play.” 

Thom, who was a sophomore on last year’s varsity team, said he doesn’t believe having such a young team will compromise the team’s chances of doing well this season.

“It [this year’s team] is just a lot of new guys,” Thom said. “Last year we kind of just like, [went] out and played. [This year] it’s a lot more development in the preseason. [But] I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

Paly baseball has been a prominent name in the Bay Area since coach Fukuhara became the head coach in 2015, winning several league championships with his coaching staff. According to coach Fukuhara, the team’s goals are to get right back to being in the mix of the top teams in the area. 

“Our team goals would be to win a league championship and you know, compete [in] CCS wherever we land and let the chips fall,” Fukuhara said.

The Vikings will play Valley Christian High School in a preseason scrimmage 4 p.m. Wednesday at home.