Once upon a time, Pat Riley and Darin Tisdale teamed up on the Grand View University baseball team. Fast forward to the present, and they’re teaming up again.
Riley and Tisdale are entering their first season as co-coaches of the Newton baseball team, which is undergoing plenty of change itself. Although the Cardinals lost a strong senior class, they also return plenty of the role players that strung together a 15-win season last year.
“We’ve got a solid core of guys with experienced seniors and sophomore and junior classes that have some talented baseball players,” Riley said. “They’re good athletes, they’re coachable, and I’m looking forward to a good season.”
In addition to losing seniors like the multi-talented Brian Rose, the Cardinals will also be missing current seniors Collin Reynolds and Andrew Clements. Clements will take the summer off to focus on his upcoming collegiate career, while Reynolds has injured labrums in both of his shoulders.
However, the Cardinals will also be returning 11 players that saw the field last season. One senior that especially sticks out is catcher Taylor Field, who will take his talents to Winona State University next season. Field led the Cards in average (.377), hits (40), doubles (10), RBIs (18), on-base percentage (.445) and runs scored (22) last season, and will be one of the team’s multiple leaders on and off the diamond this summer.
“Taylor is easily our best baseball player, and I don’t think anybody would argue that fact,” Riley said. “But what I like is that we have a good group of guys that work hard and push each other, so basically they’re leading each other.”
“He’s done some great things throughout his career and we want to see him work this season and continue to get better and work on his skills,” Tisdale added. “Anything he improves on here will just help him out down the road.”
Joining Field is a large cast of varsity-ready players. Among them are seniors Jacob Marter, Zach Gifford and Jacob Hill, juniors Chandler Sturtz, Levi Michener, Evan Shimon and Derek Wrage and sophomores Tyler Wood, Michael Barr and Mike McCormick.
Wrage logged 42 innings pitched and three wins last season, while Barr recorded two wins of his own from the bump. Wood and Gifford each added a victory in spot starts and relief appearances throughout the season.
Riley and Tisdale are also expecting sophomores Jeff Stanton and Jordan Travis to make an impact, but the biggest thing the players need to do now is prove their versatility.
“What we’re doing differently is really stressing to the kids is we need them to be multi-position players,” Riley said. “Everybody is an outfielder, everybody is an infielder and everybody works those drills. The other thing that does is breed competition, so it forces everyone to work hard all the time, and that will make us a better team.”
The new coaches and team have spent about three weeks preparing for the upcoming season, which will begin with a doubleheader at Marshalltown on Monday.
Like usual, those early practices are spent knocking off the cobwebs that may have formed in the offseason, especially one with bad weather.
“We’re not worried so much about the opponents, but about playing the game the right way,” Tisdale said. “The wins should take care of themselves throughout the season if you take care of things fundamentally and know how to handle different situations in the game.”
Riley is no stranger to Newton athletics, as he currently serves as the boys varsity golf coach. The same can be said for Tisdale, who is a 1994 Newton graduate. In recent years, he has coached the Cardinal freshman team on and off, and has helped re-vamp Newton’s Little League system to help better prepare young players for the transition to high school.
“As an alumnus, I’m excited to be back coaching,” Tisdale said. “I’m especially excited to be coaching for a program I played in and graduated from.”
Sports editor Shane Lucas may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 432, or at email@example.com.