Another Thunder Mountain first means a lot of new questions, many of which will be answered this weekend for the Falcons baseball team, which plays its first-ever series at Southeast Conference foe Wrangell to open the 2010 season.
As with every other Thunder Mountain team this year, youth abounds. And the roster, which numbers about 14 kids, is fluid. Chris Walkenford is the lone senior, and Xavier Dunn the only junior at this point.
"It's a building program. Wrangell said they are rebuilding, and, well, we are building," manager Bill McCauley said, as his players were busy passing around new uniforms and gear before practice on Thursday. "We're a brand-new team, and this is just so awesome. The guys are pumped up and they're into it.
"Many seasons have started with us stepping on the field for the first time in the first game. That's pretty typical for around here."
McCauley, previously an assistant coach at JDHS over the last four years, said the team has been working on a little bit of everything since practice started on March 1, but the main focus has been getting the ball over the plate - and having someone back there who can catch it.
"We've been working really hard on pitching and catching, and Chris Luck is probably our starting catcher," he said. "But with the small number of players we have, we're going to move players around a lot. We're going to make kids be versatile - it's a necessity."
Unfortunately, weather has forced the team indoors during practice for the most part this year. And without grass or dirt in the gym, the players can't use real baseballs without tearing up the hardwood court.
"We can't throw or hit regular baseballs, so we have to use the soft compression balls," McCauley said. "And even those can damage the gym, so it's a shaky thing. It's very difficult to work on stuff indoors, but we're used to it.
"Anyone who's lived in Alaska is used to it."
McCauley said they are working on building a small batting cage in the school's auxiliary gym with a net that can be raised or lowered.
"If we can find a good sponsor," McCauley said, "we can build one, raise and lower it, and softball can use it, baseball can use it - any other activity can use it."
The lineup has yet to be set, but the players will find out today, McCauley said.
"We really haven't discussed that yet," he said. "Certainly, we know who is hitting better, but it's really just been in the batting cage and during hitting drills. We really haven't seen kids perform, so that's what this weekend's all about. We'll throw kids into the game and see who performs.
"We're going to learn a lot from this weekend, and the nice thing is we'll have two weeks to work after we get back before our next game."
No positions except pitcher and catcher are set. McCauley listed freshmen Ben Bullock, Dalton Small and Jackson Pavitt, sophomores Camden Thomas and Chris Luck, and Dunn and Walkenford as guys who will see time on the hill. All other spots in the field are up for grabs.
"We have ideas. Again, we'll make some guys who want to play infield play outfield because we just don't have any choice," he said. "We haven't worried about it too much. We've just worked on versatility."
McCauley said he learned to play in Southern California before attending high school and college in Oklahoma. His coaching philosophy is simple: "These kids have to work hard, they have to play hard, and I insist that they have fun," he said.
"We talk about performance," he continued. "You can ask them how often I say the 'win' word. I don't. We talk about performance and their individual play."
Dunn, who has played first base in the past and will see time on the mound this year, said the guys are ready to get out on the field.
"It will be a lot of fun. I wish we had more games," he said. "But we're a pretty good team and it should be enjoyable. We're really just ready to start. We're all playing to just see what we can do."
Bullock said the guys are eager to see where they stand.
"Well, we're a new team, and it will be interesting to see what we can do against teams like JDHS or Sitka," he said. "I wish we had a lot more guys, though. We only have 14 or 15, so we don't have a JV team. But I think these guys will have a lot more experience next year when freshmen turn into sophomores.
"I'm looking forward to playing JDHS. They are way bigger than us, but it will be exciting."
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