Crunch Time for July 19, 2012
Kelly measures ML Legion success differently
By PAUL DELANEY
Kerry Kelly will be the first one to admit he would have loved to still be playing baseball right now. The figures don't lie, however, nor do they add up to a spot in the American Legion Baseball AA postseason.
But for Medical Lake, the little baseball engine that could – and did at the most unlikely times against the best of teams – despite no playoffs, Kelly still has plenty of payoffs in 2012.
Kelly's collection of yours, mine and ours players is a blended baseball bunch with players from four different schools across Eastern Washington that made the long drive from places like Odessa, Davenport and Reardan.
But what real baseball player would not want to relish the opportunity to play almost nightly under the lights in the summertime?
On paper Medical Lake finished 5-14 and well out of the playoffs, which they had at least qualified for last year. Kelly, however, will call this a winning season for a lot of reasons, maybe the least of which being able to put enough gloves on the field, arms on the mound and bats at the plate.
That in itself was a huge challenge for Medical Lake in their Great Northern League season where Kelly, a San Diego transplant five years ago, sometimes had to beat the bushes, the B- and C-Squads for able bodies.
Kelly found part of the answer last year when Cade Weber joined fellow Odessa-Harrington player Andy Schafer and made the 65-mile, 1-hour 15-minute drive to make it to games and practices. That paved the way for others out of Lincoln County who did not have the opportunity to fine-tune their baseball skills in the summer.
“It's a great group of kids,” Kelly said of his extended family representing Medical Lake baseball. “All four of these high schools blending together, it's been a really good thing.”
It started a couple of years ago. “And by word of mouth in those little communities through those athletes, I've made only one recruiting call if you will to supply more kids,” Kelly said.
“I don't think we'll have to go out and seek them, I think they'll want to come and play for us.”
One thing Kelly told his players at the end of their final game was he threw out the team wins and losses, opting to measure the summer's success in personal terms.
“I think they all got better,” Kelly said. “We battled in the big games and that shows me a lot.”
They even won a few too, like a big win over perennial contender University. “We were in some big games and we lost to some tough teams very close,” Kelly said. “I think they gained some respect.”
On the other hand Medical Lake puzzled their coach by losing to teams that maybe they shouldn't have.
Overall, however, “It shows me focus and I told them to take that back to their individual programs; carry it over into your football season, your basketball season, whatever,” Kelly said.
Just making sure players – some not even able to drive – all just made it to games might have been enough of a logistical nightmare in itself. But add to that beating down and blending the psychological barriers of small-town rivals and Kelly had his hands full.
“I think it's difficult to bring kids from four teams into one and one of them are rivals – I think Reardan and Davenport are arch rivals?” Kelly said.
“They all got along pretty well but we had one Davenport kid (Tommy Wilkie) and he reminded Nathan Sorci, who happens to play quarterback for Reardan, that he got the hit of the week on him and rung his bell.”
While Kelly had concerns about merging teams plus over-practicing and overdoing, in the end, “They just all kind of figured it out. They supported one another and that was a lot of fun.”
Special for Kelly was, “It gave me the opportunity to coach eight kids I would had an opportunity to coach, eight relationships that who knows.”
“That's why you coach,” Kelly said. “You coach because you love the game, but to make relationships with young men.”
And Kelly will be the first one to say summer ball also does wonders in skills development for the following spring, which for Medical Lake will now mean playing in the Northeast A League.
Players Kelly initially thought were long shots to be able to play at the AA Legion level impressed their coach. “To their credit, they played hard,” Kelly said of Jacob Steinmetz, Hudson Petek and Dylan Rushfeldt.
Steinmetz showed his promise in the Wood Bat Classic stroking four hits while playing first base. “If we can get him to play with more consistency next year that would really help us,” Kelly said.
“Dylan hit the ball and started earning more playing time,” Kelly said. Petek really struggled behind the plate catching Adam Paulson – not an easy thing to do, Kelly said. “But he really got himself into a groove.”
Just playing and being part of a higher caliber of baseball – or any sport for that matter – “You get better,” Kelly said.
Maybe by next year that means a postseason to also be proud of?
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.