Steamboat Springs Lonely spring evenings spent inside a gymnasium fielding ground balls and hitting inside a batting cage won’t be anything new to Jeff Walton.
Walton, who moved to Steamboat Springs in May and is the new assistant Steamboat Springs High School baseball coach, is a veteran of inclement weather. He grew up in Oak Harbor, Wash., where 300-plus days of rain per year were the norm.
It meant Walton spent many days in a gym playing baseball — something that’s quite normal for a Sailors program looking for its first winning season in more than five years.
“It’s definitely difficult,” said Walton, who works at Wells Fargo Bank. “Just playing in the gym, you don’t get to see how the ball is going to carry. It’s a little bit more difficult, but that’s where the mechanics come into play.”
Walton comes to a Steamboat baseball program in the midst of plenty of turnover.
New coach Robert Fitzhugh took over the program earlier this summer and is trying to breathe life into a team that traditionally has struggled.
Walton also brings with him a pretty impressive baseball background. After high school, he attended Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash. The Red Devils consistently play in one of the top junior college conferences in the country and have won 10 Northwest Athletic Association of Community College championships. While at Lower Columbia College, Walton was selected as the Male Student Athlete of the Year and named to the NWAAC Western Division All Star Team.
He then accepted a scholarship to Lander University in South Carolina.
His first year there, in 2004, he set single-season records for batting average, doubles and hits. He also was chosen as the Male Student Athlete of the Year.
In his final year in South Carolina, he reset all of his own records, this time hitting .406 with a school-record 96 hits.
“We both believe in a contact-first approach to hitting,” Fitzhugh said. “We both believe in pitchers attacking the strike zone. Working with someone who looks at the game the same way will make it that much easier to get the players on the same page and believing in one approach to winning baseball.”
Walton’s coaching past consists of clinics he helped run at both colleges he attended as well as coaching Babe Ruth League teams.
He understands the challenges of baseball in Steamboat and said he looks forward to trying to turn the program around.
“Baseball has been a part of my life since I was hitting it off a tee,” he said. “It’s good to still be around the game even when you’re up in the mountains.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com