Junior League team is turning heads
West Plainsâ€™ team is home from state and fifth place
finish after undefeated regular season
By PAUL DELANEY
A winning tradition is being built in West Plains Little League by coaches who revel in the history of the game they love.
Mike Paulson and Kerry Kelly have just helped guide their team of 13 and 14 year-olds to another state tournament appearance, equaling their fifth place finish of a year ago, finishing 1-2 at the Yakima event. After winning their first game against Richmond, 6-1, they lost to Kalama 11-1 before being eliminated by Bellevue, 6-3.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t really matter at this point what they do at state, theyâ€™re already champions and theyâ€™ve already proven to us that theyâ€™re a bunch of great kids,â€ Paulson said.
Paulson and Kelly have also helped lead Jongeward Construction to a combined two-year record of 31-0 in Junior League play. People are asking, â€œWho is this West Plains team?â€ Paulson said.
Well itâ€™s a group of 12 young men, eight from Cheney and four out of Medical Lake.
And itâ€™s a team that is not only learning the fundamentals of the game from a couple of â€œold-schoolâ€ guys who grew up watching some of the true greats of the game, but also getting immersed in baseball history as well.
Paulson is the vice president of the West Plains Little League, a board member on the Medical Lake booster club and when he has some spare time he works at the Dealerâ€™s Auto Auction.
Kelly starts work between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. as the supervisor of a merchandising crew at Costco on East Sprague in Spokane. â€œI try to create little traffic patterns for you guys to walk through and maximize our sales,â€ he said with a chuckle. Kelly works the crazy hours so he can coach baseball and watch his kids play sports.
â€œWhen Kerry and I first became acquainted with each other he was applying for the Medical Lake (baseball) job,â€ Paulson said.
â€œI think we both have the same philosophy when it comes to teaching the kids how to play the game,â€ Paulson explained. â€œHow to play it, one - at a level theyâ€™re not used to playing - and playing it in a way that is respectful.â€
Paulson said that thereâ€™s a way to play the game and be aggressive and be good, but also being respectful to the opponent. â€œIâ€™ve always felt that if you can walk away from a game and have the opponent say that was a great team (we played),â€ Paulson added.
â€œAnd to build on what Mike said, I think thatâ€™s one thing that really works with Mike and I,â€ Kelly said. â€œMike is a little more serious. We both have a true respect of the history of the game. When we hang out with the kids we talk about players we used to idolize when we were playing.â€
Paulson is the boss, Kelly said. â€œMikeâ€™s in charge when things are going wrong, but when things are going well Iâ€™m the third base coach,â€ Kelly said. â€œWhen we have problems, we switch,â€ Paulson chimed in.
But problems appear to be few and far between considering this is the third year in a row this particular league is representing state.
â€œItâ€™s a tribute to the league,â€ Kelly said. â€œThe people who started this league, Adam Smith and some of the founders of the West Plains Little League. Mike (Paulson) is a part of it.â€
â€œThe sophomore class at Cheney and some of the juniors out here at Medical Lake â€“ the Nick Pachecos the Ronnie Millers â€“ they were all part of these state teams in the past,â€ Kelly said. â€œSo itâ€™s just a good thing. I think weâ€™ve taken it and kind of raised the bar a little bit. Itâ€™s also a tribute to these kids, theyâ€™re sponges (for learning) and good kids.â€
The old-school approach is reflected in multiple facets of the game. â€œLook at our team, they all have baseball haircuts; they all wear their hats straightâ€™ their pants (legs) are all down; they look sharp; they hustle in and out of the field; they play catch together,â€ Paulson said. â€œThey do everything together and with a purpose,â€ he added.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to tell them what to do. They know what to do,â€ Kelly said. â€œEvery practice we have on this field, every game we play, when weâ€™re done those kids maintain the field.â€
The kids rake, they get the water hose out, they drag the infield and sweep the baselines. â€œTo me thatâ€™s how to teach the kids to respect the field they play on,â€ Kelly said. â€œThatâ€™s old school, I donâ€™t think that gets taught anymore.â€
Kelly said that if youâ€™ve been around team practices and something goes wrong, the coaches call the team in for a meeting. â€œTheyâ€™ll come running to home plate and I say, â€˜what am I gonna say, and theyâ€™ll have the answers,â€ Kelly said. â€œItâ€™s â€˜coach I didnâ€™t do this, I didnâ€™t back up, I didnâ€™t hustle. And in my head Iâ€™m going, â€˜my workâ€™s almost done, you know.â€™â€
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com