Steamboat Springs There is a certain amount of optimism that spring breathes.
Weather changes, snow melts, and, of course, it’s the start of baseball season. To some, including new Steamboat Springs High School baseball coach Kellen Baker, it’s the best time of year.
Baker, who takes over after five seasons as an assistant coach under former manager Dave Roy, has baseball pulsating through his veins.
He grew up just outside of Boston, a diehard Red Sox fan. He played in high school and walked on as an outfielder at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. After two-plus years in Pennsylvania, Baker moved to Steamboat Springs to ski.
But that’s the thing about baseball. It sucks you in. Start liking it at a young age like Baker did, and it becomes a lifelong addiction.
In Steamboat, he saw that Roy needed help and asked if he could help coach.
“I liked the game too much,” he said. “I couldn’t get away from baseball.”
Baker’s arrival brings a new sense of optimism to the program. Steamboat and baseball go together like milk and beer. The long, snowy springs relegate the game designed for clear skies and fresh-cut grass to the hardwood of gymnasiums.
The team rarely plays home games. When it does, it’s a 45-minute drive to Craig to use those fields.
But Baker knows this.
“Defensively, it’s tough reading the ball off the bat, setting up cuts and having the space to work on our bunt defense,” He said. “Defensively, we’re a little bit limited. But it’s something that we’ll talk about and walk through. Getting out on the grass is the biggest thing.”
This, however, won’t be a big deterrent for Baker. He already took a group down to Denver East last week for two days of practice in sunshine. He’s also changing up practices to make them more uptempo.
The team, varsity and junior varsity, practice together for two hours. Baker decided this year to break up the two groups, run practices at a faster pace and make sure they last less than two hours.
“We want to shorten up the time we practice and keep everyone moving,” he said. “We’re going to do a little bit more conditioning. I want to go that route. I think I bring a lot of energy to the program. I’m very passionate about it.”
Early returns seem to be positive.
After the recent Denver East trip, players said they have a clear goal in mind. For the past three years, it’s always been about making the state playoffs, but inconsistency in all aspects of the game has cost the team.
This year, though, the vibe seems different.
“I think there is more dedication on this team. Maybe more than any time before,” senior Alan Capistron said. “We know we have to overcome (adversity). We’ve all grown up in the system and want to do some damage. We’ve got more confidence this year. We definitely want to do some damage in the league with Baker at the helm.”
Baker wouldn’t put a number on wins that he’d like to see in his first year. Rather, he said he’s looking to change the perception and attitude of the team.
If that leads to a playoff appearance, all the better.
“What I’m really trying to stress to the kids is how important this program can be,” he said. “I’ve told them we may be limited with space, facilities and the snow. But if we go out and have the most heart, I’d take the team with the most heart over the most talent every single day.”
— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@SteamboatToday.com