During the third inning of the summer league baseball contest between the teams from West Stokes and South Stokes, Jamison Nagle, a rising senior at South, hit a grand slam homerun.
Nagle’s crushing shot over the right centerfield fence off West Stokes starter Jacob Craver elicited a few cheers from the crowd and created some excitement in the Sauras’ dugout, but the mood was subdued. If Nagle had performed his feat during a regular season contest, it would have sparked a huge celebration both in the stands and on the field.
As it was, the demeanor of head coach Mitch Adams and Nagle’s teammates seemed to say, “Well done.” That’s all.
This is summer league ball where the emphasis is not on winning and losing, but on consistent improvement. For Adams and West Stokes head coach Kirk Goodson, these games offer valuable insight into their players’ talents and abilities while giving their younger participants a chance to experience high school baseball for the first time.
“It’s laid back but it’s a lot of teaching,” Goodson said. “It’s a great opportunity for coaches to develop their players and get to know the younger kids — the middle school kids are coming into a new system.”
Rising freshman pitchers Avery Marshall and Eli Boles hurled for West Stokes against the Sauras on Monday night, and Goodson was pleased with their performance.
“The middle school team was 12-0 this year, so there are several players coming up that have potential,” he said.
Before the game, Goodson and Adams agreed to have their upperclassmen play the first five innings and allow their JV players to take the field the final four innings.
“We’re out here getting these kids plenty of innings in — that’s why we’re splitting it up like that,” Adams said. “The biggest thing is getting our pitchers out here — getting them throwing. We struggled a little bit tonight throwing strikes. It’s always going to come back to bite you, but we’re just trying to get better.”
Tyler Hawks started for South Stokes, and the Wildcat batters pounced in the first inning by scoring four runs. West Stokes tacked on another run in the second inning to extend its lead to 5-0. Nagle’s grand slam homer in the third pulled South Stokes to within 5-4, but West scored two more runs in the bottom of the frame and never looked back.
But the final score was irrelevant to the true purpose of Monday’s contest.
“It’s not about the scoreboard — the scoreboard is for the fans,” Adams said. “We’re out here doing what we want them to do — doing some of the little things we want them to do and just trying to get better as a team by making sure all the players get at-bats. It’s a good thing.”
And when players don’t do exactly what their coaches would like for them to do, it’s a golden opportunity to learn from failure.
“Mistakes are good teaching moments,” Goodson said. “I was talking to them last week, we had made a few mistakes and I said, ‘There’s no way you can get better in anything unless you make a mistake.’ You adjust, you make the corrections. You’re going to continue to make mistakes, but as long as you don’t make the same one over and over again, those are good mistakes.”
Both Goodson and Adams acknowledged that the summer league, which was formed by a dozen area high school baseball coaches this year, has been of particular benefit to their pitchers.
“We’re looking for [Jacob Craver] to pitch a lot of innings for us — he’s really getting better,” Goodson said. “He’s gotten better this spring and this summer. He’s getting innings in and he’s learning the curveball — his curveball and change-up is looking good. We’ve just got to keep him [centered] from the neck up, because he’s got all the tools.”
Goodson said his instructions to his pitching staff have centered on maintaining their mental focus. As West’s pitchers get more opportunities to play against tough competition, that focus becomes second nature.
“What we’re trying to drill in their head is it’s not necessarily the pitch, it’s the location,” Goodson said. “They’re going to hit good pitches sometimes, but what we try to instill in his mind is, I want you to throw the pitch where you want to throw it and in your mind, you’re saying, ‘Hit it.’”
Adams said the summer league has given his upperclassmen a golden opportunity to take on leadership roles with the younger players coming on board. But mostly, summer league baseball is about a love of the game and the desire for real competition.
“Anytime you can get out and play against someone with another color jersey, you get to see what you can do and that’s fun,” he said.