Bases loaded for Steamboat

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— Outside the snow was still falling and blowing Wednesday afternoon, but inside the protective walls of Steamboat Springs High School gym a small group of dedicated students were dreaming of warmer days and their chance to play baseball.

"I think we have a pretty dedicated group of guys this year," said Sailors' veteran player Joe Liefer.

Liefer was one of a handful of guys who were in the old gym at the high school tossing the baseball around and taking batting practice in a movable batting cage, which was made up of black net.

"Playing this sport in Steamboat is not the challenge," first year head coach Sean Hicks said. "Getting a group of players who are dedicated and willing to make sacrifices that is the challenge."

Hicks said the spring season is a difficult one for students. He said getting players to show up day after day to practice in the gym is hard. It's also hard to keep players on a team that must travel every week and will get only a few home games at the end of the season if the weather cooperates.

Throw in the fact that spring break falls right in the heart of the season (the Sailors are scheduled play three games during that time) and the coach has a formula that will test any player's dedication.

But Hicks doesn't think it is impossible and feels like his has the commitment of the players who have already come out for the team.

"At our first meeting with the guys everyone said they wanted more discipline and a more serious program," Hicks said. "So that's how we have structured things this year."

Hicks was hired to take over the team this year and will assume the leadership role along with assistant Aaron Voldness.

Hicks was a college player and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a catcher. He has been out of baseball for a few years and saw the coaching opening at the high school as a way to get back into the game.

"I wanted to be involved with baseball again, and coaching a high school team is a great opportunity," Hicks said.

The Sailors officially opened practice with a mini-camp in Grand Junction Feb. 21-23. Some of the players, however, have been working out in local gyms since January.

The team was scheduled to play a scrimmage this Saturday and will officially open the season March 22-23 in the Rangely Tournament.

The team will include a veteran core of players, including Liefer, Preston Stanfill, David May, Tanner Barr, Jordy Gunderson, Corey Beck and Scott Middleton.

Hicks said it's a talented group of players with a lot of potential especially on the mound.

"I'm not really sure what I've got," Hicks said. "Players seem to keep trickling in every day."

The roster has 20 players on it, but that could grow before the start of the season.

"I think we could have seven or eight guys that could pitch," Hicks said. "They have the control and only time will tell if they have the velocity."

Despite the 3 feet of white stuff that covers most local baseball fields, Hicks doesn't see the snow as the biggest challenge facing he team.

The Steamboat team is scheduled to play 14 games this season. Home games are scheduled for April 9, April 13 and April 20. The team is also scheduled to play in Craig April 2.

"The snow doesn't bother me," Hicks said. "We can practice in the gym and we will be traveling to play anyway. But we are going to have to change some attitudes. We need to have commitment on and off the field if we are going to be successful."

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