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(Photo Courtesy Jennifer Coats – Jennifer Coats Photography)

The temperatures, albeit it still fickle, are warming. The wind is certainly blowing. And although basketball season is still – excitingly – ongoing, for the athletes who’ve spent the winter in offseason, spring has sprung.

And for the Bulldog baseball team, a fresh, new campaign in more ways than one starts today.

The Diamond ‘Dogs will kick off their 2018 season at 4:30 p.m. today against Class 6A Cleveland at the Hobbs Round Robin tournament, and they’ll do it with a new face at the helm: first-year head coach JJ Ortiz.

For any program experiencing a coaching change, a period of adjustment is a given. But Ortiz says bumps in the road have been minimal, and overall, the squad is embracing its new direction.

“Whenever a new coach comes in… I have a different personality,” Ortiz said Wednesday. “I have a different way of doing things, and so there’s been a little bit of growing pains with that. And we knew there were going to be.

“But there’s been good feedback from the kids and from the community, and overall, it’s been awesome. I’ve been really busy with letting people know what we’re doing here and keeping people involved, and the kids are responding really well.”

In addition to a scrimmage against Alamogordo, Ortiz organized a few preseason activities to generate excitement and break up the monotony of day-to-day practices.

“We had an alumni game to reach out to alumni, because we really value what they brought to us when they played here and what they bring to us as fans now,” said the coach. “We also did a kids’ camp, which was awesome, because we want the younger kids to know we care about them and will try to work with them as much as we can to build them up to be future Bulldogs.

“Everything has just been really positive, and we’re working on getting better every day.”

That work began with a complete review of the basics: evaluating technique and, where necessary, Ortiz says, “fixing bad habits.”

With the full team yet to be integrated due to basketball playoffs, this weekend’s round robin will serve as an evaluation tool for Ortiz and his staff – which includes assistant coaches Chris Galbraith, Caleb Smith, Andy Lopez and Jason Fuentes.

“We’re really focusing on these early tournaments to get a baseline of where we’re at and where we need to do,” Ortiz said. “Like I told the guys, these games are just to get us better. We’re playing really good competition. We probably have the toughest 5A schedule in the state, bar none – top to bottom, we’re playing the best teams, and that’s how we wanted it. That’s going to give us an idea of where we need to go.”

Following this afternoon’s outing against Cleveland, the ‘Dogs will take on Carlsbad and Clovis Friday, at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively. Next weekend will bring the Carlsbad Invitational, and the Bulldogs will host their traditional home opener – the Artesia Invitational – March 15-17 at Brainard Park before hitting the road again March 22-24 for the Rio Rancho Invite.

That full tournament slate will leave time for just one regular-season double header – April 3 against Hobbs in Hobbs – before the start of District 4-AAAAA play April 10 in Lovington.

That also means the boys in orange will be home just once – for their home tourney – between now and April 13, so fans are encouraged to turn out in force, as well as support the ballclub when they can on the road.

“Every time I’ve talked to the community, I’ve just encouraged them to come support us,” said Ortiz. “I hope everyone does, and we’re encouraging our players to support other sports also. We’re all a big family.”

As for this weekend, the Bulldogs are obviously thrilled to be taking the field against someone other than themselves and to see how they stack up at this early stage.

“They’re excited,” said Ortiz. “Like I told them, this isn’t going to decide our fate. These games are just to get better, and you have to approach it that way. If you go 0-3, the sun will rise and you’ll be fine. But it’s been a good experience so far, and we’re excited about going to Hobbs.”