WALLA WALLA - The boys of summer have arrived.
Wood bats and horsehide in hand, and with a refreshed stadium waiting to be filled, the Walla Walla Sweets are itching with impatience for tonight's opening pitch.
At 6-foot-6, Karsten Strieby towers over first base for the Sweets.
Strieby is a Washington native and a 2008 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School. He just wrapped up his freshmen year at Arizona Western College and says he's glad to be back in the Northwest.
"This is a beautiful town," Strieby said on a recent spring evening. "There's great scenery, I like the size of it. This will be a great place to spend the summer."
Strieby has been playing ball since he was 6 or 7, he said. He played all four years at Mountlake, including a trip to state in 2008.
Now in Walla Walla, he's looking forward to the opportunity to improve his skills.
"There's a lot of good guys and talent on the team," he said. "It should be a good season."
Many of the players have arrived since school ended in late May, with a few still playing in the NCAAs.
Strieby has been playing first base for about five years and says the experience with the Sweets will help hone him for his future career.
"We've got a good coaching staff and we work hard," he said. "I want to polish my skills and work hard everyday, and hopefully become a better player."
The team started practice just last week.
"I think we're blending well as a team," he said. "A couple more of the guys have shown up, and I think we should be ready to go."
Since most of the young men will come off college seasons, they're already in shape.
It's just adjusting to the new style, Strieby said.
New teammates, new coaches and wood bats will all mark a change for the players.
"Everybody's going to be ready Tuesday," Strieby said.
Strieby wants to get better this season, and - like any athlete - winning is on his list.
"I'm looking for a good, winning season," he said. "I want to get better and prep for next year and further on."
Arizona Western is in a wood-bat league - unusual in college ball, where aluminum bats dominate.
So continuing to play with wood - which the pros use - is a good experience for the players who already do, and a good thing to get better at for players who haven't used wood in a while.
"I'm at a great college where we already use wood bats, and the Sweets will give me a lot of good experience to take back there," he said. "It won't be much of a transition. It might be a little harder for some of the other guys, off metal-bat leagues, but with a few practices they should be fine."
According to the National Junior College Athletic Association, Strieby batted .316 in his freshmen year at Arizona Western with a fielding percentage was .981.
Strieby chose Arizona Western because of the chance to grow up a little outside of Washington.
But when it came time to pick a collegiate league, he came home.
He was approached by other collegiate leagues, but the lure of Washington brought him to the Sweets.
"I was away during school all year, and I wanted to be near home for the summer," he said. "I love Washington and I'm glad to be here."
Adjusting to life in Walla Walla, which Strieby has visited before, hasn't been difficult. Like the other players, he's living with a host family in town.
"They're really nice," he said. "They're big sports fans, so that's cool."
Strieby wants to play pro ball one day. With his Northwest blood, he's a big Mariners fan.
And pro ball also runs in his blood. His brother, Ryan Strieby, was Southeast Conference Player of the Year in 2006 while playing at the University of Kentucky. He's playing minor league ball in the International League in Florida.
Some of the Strieby family will be making the five-hour drive from the Seattle area for Sweets games, Strieby said.
"That will be a lot of fun," he said.