After a year of cancelations and great uncertainty, Siuslaw’s baseball program is finally back in the game with Season Three (spring) in full swing. Coach Tom Shinn, who is beginning his fourth season with the Viks, was relieved the team would be allowed to proceed with competitions this year.
“I’m glad to have [a season] on the horizon,” said Shinn. “After last year and having it canceled, I wasn’t sure we would have one.”
Shinn, who is also the school’s history and yearbook teacher, discussed the disappointment of last year’s season being canceled after having gotten so much going with his team in the pre-season.
“OSAA allows you two weeks of pitchers and catchers, and we had done that,” explained Shinn. “We were about a week-and-a-half into having team practice when it got shut down. We had games coming up within a week, and it was about a month's worth of practice.”
Shinn’s first two years in charge of the program were not easy, but in that third year, the team had started to get its groove going. Unfortunately, with the season’s cancelation, Shinn was unable to see that entire season of progress unfold.
“We've struggled, but we're trying to rebuild some things,” admitted Shinn. “Last year, I was really looking forward to it. We had a good group of seniors and sophomores coming in that were strong, and then they never got to play. I'm really looking forward to this year being a year that we turn the corner.”
Another aspect of the season that Shinn has to look forward to are his returning seniors, who are sharing their fourth year in the program with the coach.
“That's what makes this season a little more special for me, explained Shinn. “These are kids that came in with me when I was a rookie coach — at least here at Siuslaw. We struggled back then. I think we won three or four games that first year because we were really young and didn't have a whole lot of talent. Our freshmen were kind of thrust into things. But they've been able to see it through.”
Returning as seniors this year are Elijah Blankenship, Dalton Stinger and Clay Kramer. All three seniors pitch in addition to playing other positions on the field.
“Elijah has caught in the past,” said Shinn. “He's played middle infield for me in the past. He has played some outfield; he’s a kid who can do everything.”
Stinger pitches and plays corner infield, more often than not third base. Kramer is a pitcher and outfielder. All three were freshmen varsity players when Shinn took over the program.
While the return of these seniors will help drive the program forward this season, the timing logistics of the season that have been affected by the pandemic will make it a rough start.
“Here’s the difficult thing,” explained Shinn, “I have 23 Kids signed up, of which I've seen a maximum of 12 in practice because we still have a lot of the kids playing football. So, a good portion of what would be considered my varsity kids, I haven't even seen in practice. I'll get one practice day with the kids that are doing football prior to our first game on the 13th.”
One day of practice together as a team following two years between competitions — and a full year since the last practices were held — is surely a challenge. However, Shinn is aware that this same disadvantage is being suffered by all of the teams in the league.
“I keep getting reassured by others that everybody's going through that,” said Shinn, “but it doesn't make it any easier to try and figure out exactly who your varsity players are and where they're going to play. Everything that we would like to get installed and get going, we just really haven't had the opportunity to do.”
In addition to missing half of the team to playing football, the overlap has been difficult for Shinn as a coach, because he is one of the football team’s assistant coaches as well.
“It's been a bit of a struggle there,” admitted Shinn. “I haven't been able to be [at football practice] for the last two weeks. During spring break, I was running pitchers’ and catchers’ practices before going to football, so I could get some of those kids stronger.
“We've had to be a little creative with trying to get kids involved so far.”
Like all coaches this season, Shinn wishes that he had more time to prepare.
“This year, I'm going to have 11 kids that will have touched a bat for the first time, possibly in over a year, coming to our first team practice — with our first game the following day,” said Shinn.
Last year, Siuslaw didn’t field a JV team. This year, Shinn plans on having two teams due to the number of players who have turnerd out. But it’s a two-edged sword with not having time to develop them. Still, Shinn is optimistic.
“You’ve got to kind of approach it as everybody's in the same boat. And when you throw your varsity kids out there, we're going to just go get them,” he said. “My personal goal is to win ballgames and be competitive in our league. I think our program is starting to grow and I really thought last year was going to push us towards that. Now it’s this year’s turn to go get that.”
Earlier this week, following that first day of a full team practice on Monday, Shinn’s efforts were rewarded Tuesday (April 13) when Siuslaw went on to defeat the Cottage Grove Lions in their first game of the season, 11-9.
“It was a little sloppy, we found some things we need to work on,” said Shinn.
During the game, the Vikings tried out three pitching combinations, all to sophomore catcher Ian Sissel.
“Pitching-wise, I liked what I saw for the most part,” said Shinn. “The plan was to limit the number of pitches guys threw so we have arms available for Friday (April 16). Both Elijah and Clay are able to return if we need them.”
Kramer was followed on the mound by junior Jason Garcia, who came in to pitch in the second inning, with Blankenship taking the mound in the sixth inning to close out the game. Blankenship also had 2 runs and an RBI, as well as 2 stolen bases.
In addition to Blankenship, junior Beau Erickson had 2 runs and 3 RBIs, as well as a triple. Junior Isaac Garza also had 1 run and 1 RBI for the Viks.
According to Shinn, whose team is already off to a good start in a season that began with great uncertainty, “Our goal this week will be to limit the errors and strike outs and just keep improving from there.”