Steamboat baseball hopes to make playoffs despite youth and challenging practice conditions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During the offseason, Steamboat Springs High School head baseball coach Rusty McRight sat down with each of his 17 baseball players to ask what they wanted out of this season.
“Every player wanted to make the playoffs this year,” McRight said.
March 15 and 16: at Roaring Fork
March 23: at Eagle Valley
March 26: at Moffat County
April 6: at Palisade
April 8: at Aspen
April 13: at Basalt
April 20: at Battle Mountain
May 1: at Summit
May 4: at Rifle
May 11: vs. Glenwood Springs
Making the playoffs as a team that doesn’t have a baseball field — or even grass to play on — is extremely difficult when they line up against teams that have both.
Despite it all, there’s reason to be confident the Sailors are on the rise.
The junior class played through a three-win season its freshman year but earned an 11-7 record in its second season. Now, they’re part of a team with no seniors.
“We have talent, but it’s unrefined,” Sailors junior Maxim Fullerton said. “We need all the reps we can get and a lot of focus in practice. Every minute we can take to play baseball, we should take advantage of that.”
The Sailors roster includes five juniors: Fullerton, Tanner Ripley, Ethan Johnson, Jack Colfer and George Cook. The remainder of the varsity squad is made up of four sophomores and three freshmen.
Fullerton is a talented new junior to the team, having spent his past few years living in Jordan. Both of his parents are international teachers, so he’s lived in Jordan, Cambodia, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.
He’s come to Steamboat every summer since childhood, playing on summer league baseball teams, and he wanted to return full time to play the sports he loves. Leaving Jordan was the family’s decision since it was a culturally difficult place for his sister to grow up.
“It’s really fun, but sports wise it was limited,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton played on the Grand Junction Oysters baseball team throughout the summer and fall, in addition to being on both the Steamboat football and basketball teams.
But, baseball is his first love, and he’s hoping to turn the heads of college scouts during his junior season. McRight believes his athleticism plays to his advantage.
“I didn’t think I was good at baseball at that point,” Fullerton said. “It was only during this summer when I started playing on the summer league team and my other team in Grand Junction that I really thought it was possible.”
The team’s youth is not as much of a challenge as securing practice time. The Sailors will host one home game this year at the baseball fields at Howelsen Hill. Right now, they split time on the turf gym and at a new indoor facility off Copper Ridge Circle.
“I acquired a facility mid-February strictly for the baseball season,” McRight said. “Over the past two years, we had a facility donated to us by the First Baptist Church, but they needed that space this year. I normally start in October with open gyms working with the pitchers’ arms. That wasn’t the case this year because we didn’t have a place to work with the kids. We started working in February, but in all actuality, the pitchers are behind the eight-ball this year because their arms are not in the shape they should be.”
McRight laid down carpet from an old house in his new facility and brought the batting cage along. Half the team will spend time in the auxiliary gym at the high school while the other half will head to Copper Ridge for batting practice and strength station workouts.
Since the team doesn’t have a home field, outside workouts are normally shared on a football field with lacrosse players and track runners.
“It’s challenging but not the worst problem to have,” Fullerton said.
Ripley, the starting catcher on the team, said traveling for competition is something the team is used to, but he said having access to practices on the football field would make a difference.
“If they plow the field up there, then we can get some outside work in and get some arm strength in,” Ripley said.
Even when the Sailors play at home, it’s not as much of an advantage compared to basketball or football. The dirt infield even poses a greater challenge because the ball rolls faster.
“There’s not much of a home field advantage,” Colfer said. “You just don’t know the field as well.”
If the Sailors can continue on the path to success paved last year, there’s hope for a winning record and playoff berth.
“We’re in the beginning of the season, so we’re trying to find out what works right now,” Fullerton said.
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