Three Cheney players keep West Plains connection for AAA American Legion team
The bright red jerseys are not the only thing different about the Spokane Blue Devils AAA American Legion baseball team in 2014.
Outside of the look, the Blue Devils are being led by a new head coach, Steve Hare. This change came in the offseason after longtime coach Tony Byrne had to give up the job due to new demands in his regular career.
Other than that it's pretty much business as usual for one of six teams in the Spokane Senior Legion league, including the team always having a West Plains connection.
This year that consists of three Cheney High School players, Kyle Barsness, Tristan Flippo and Tanner Smith.
Hare, who teaches at St. Thomas More, is actually the third Blue Devils' coach since last year at this time.
"Tony (Byrne) had to give it up and George Bell took over," Hare explained. "George took me on as an assistant but got a promotion in his job."
Bell said Hare should take it over, "And I just kind of stepped right in; I've been scrambling ever since," since taking over in March. "A lot of the stuff you do is done months and months into the offseason," Hare said.
Hare, 31, graduated from North Central in 2001, went to Gonzaga for two years but got hurt. He spent a year at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake and ended up blowing out his arm. He finished his career at Whitworth. "Even there I had another blown knee," he said.
His coaching recently has centered largely around Shadle where he serves as an assistant in spring baseball. He's also coached with both the North Central and Shadle AA Legion teams.
Hare's first challenge, as is likely the case with his fellow Legion coaches, has been numbers. He's gone as far as Garfield-Palouse High to nab Jesse Lopez and just had a player from Lakeside join the team.
Other than that it's a Shadle Park dominated roster with eight Highlanders, two from North Central, and of course Cheney.
"They all have different roles on the team," Hare said of the Cheney trio.
Flippo took the spring off to take care of his dad who was ill. While Hare was a little nervous about Flippo's readiness, any fears were quashed when Flippo became the No. 1 catcher for the Blue Devils.
"He's done a great job," Hare said. "He's a workhorse back there. We greatly appreciate everything he's doing back there right now."
With Smith it's the same thing," Hare said. "He's worked his way right into the lineup." As a starting second baseman, Smith has contributed both with his glove and bat. "In the last five, six games he's been hitting it real well."
"For a little guy he's putting the ball out there pretty well," Hare said.
Barsness rotates in the outfield. This past Monday he played center and also was the designated hitter.
"All three of them have been doing real well for me," Hare said, adding, "You always like those 'yes sirs,'" and the respect it shows.
Finding players is the first challenge for any Legion coach these days.
"It (turnout) was low," Hare said as 21 players tried out. The number shrunk to 16 after tryouts and then two players were lost due to conflicts in their schedules.
The goal, Hare explained, is to have these players come out, have some fun and spread the word to buddies and start pulling kids away from select teams.
"Everyone believes that's the high and mighty thing to do right now," Hare said. "It's not necessarily better baseball."
Next comes the effort to blend the chemistry. Blending the kids on the roster, especially with just a handful of days to assemble the team before they get into playing games can be a challenge
"You don't fully get an idea of what a player is capable of when you haven't seem him all year," Hare said. "It's tough to blend these guys all together and get them all working on the same page."
Once the season begins, "We don't have a lot of time to practice," Hare said as he rattle off the team's typical schedule with Spokane league doubleheaders on consecutive days this past Monday and Tuesday followed by a single game Wednesday, a pair Thursday, one Friday and two more Saturday.
The Blue Devils are 2-4 in league play as of June 23 and 9-11 overall.
He gave the team last weekend off and took advantage of the break to visit Seattle for a quick vacation with his family - former Cheney High volleyball coach Cassie and young son, Daxon - prior to the arrival of a new baby later this year.
"I hear they went to the lake; they're boys still, it's still their summer break and I don't want them to be 100-percent totally focused on baseball," Hare said. "I want them to be kids as well."
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.