When it comes to baseball practices, Rainier High School coach Wayne Kennedy gets creative.
It’s a necessity when your team has to do drills in a basketball gym, on a football field and at a softball diamond. The Mountaineers don’t have their own home field this season after the Rainier School District could not agree to a deal with the Rainier Sportsman’s Club for use of a field.
“It’s given us an opportunity to work on the finer points of the game,” Kennedy said recently, taking a lemons-into-lemonade approach. “Working on fundamentals, working on mental pieces of the game — that enables us to drill down into those types of things.”
The Mountaineers play their home games at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey. But because Northwest Christian also uses the RAC for baseball, Rainier spends most of its time practicing in the school’s gym.
“We go to practice every day and work hard every day,” senior catcher River Reise said. “Not having the field every day sucks, but I do think it has brought us closer and we work together more.”
Because they are throwing and hitting inside a gym, the team can’t use real baseballs. Pitchers do, but most of the other players use soft-stitch balls that weigh about half of what a normal baseball does, Kennedy said.
So they work on hitting... a lot. They hit soft-stitch balls and baseballs off a tee into a net, honing their swings.
Offense has fueled the team’s 8-1 start. The Mountaineers have scored 86 runs and twice eclipsed the 20-run mark.
“It has really helped our bats,” Reise said. “We spend most of our time in the gym in the cages hitting and that has helped us a lot.”
The Mountaineers do get one outdoor practice a week, on Mondays at the RAC. That’s when Kennedy stresses defense and game situations that can’t be duplicated indoors.
“Mondays are all defense. I don’t think we’ve picked up a bat on a Monday this year,” junior Keaton Carlson said.
The Mountaineers have had occasional issues with defense. In the team’s lone loss of the season on Saturday, at least two pop flies fell in between the infielders and outfielders, and the team committed multiple errors. Kennedy said that communication and understanding might have been improved had the team had more time to work on fielding.
“It mostly affects our outfield,” Kennedy said. “There’s that communication, that little dead zone that is right in front of the outfielders, right past the infielders, that we actually had two mistakes on (Saturday).
“Today was the perfect storm, to be completely honest with you. The last four games we’ve played we’ve committed one error, infield and outfield both. So going to this today, it’s kind of surprising.”
Kennedy said fielding is just going to require more attention. He won’t allow the team to use its circumstances to become an excuse.
“We don’t make excuses; we will adapt, we will work on it and we will get better,” he said.
This toughness and determination to overcome an obstacle has worked in the team’s favor, Kennedy said. It’s made them tougher and more focused.
“They get excited about it, we talk about it, our mentality is blue collar,” he said. “We want to come out and we want to play hard; we want to hustle and we want to be known as a team that just doesn’t really care about anything other than we are going to play our game.”
Senior Israel Elwell said the team is closer because it’s had to overcome not having a home field.
“Whenever someone deprives you of something, it always brings struggle and hardship,” he said. “I feel like that has made us come together tremendously.”