Steamboat Springs After three years as the Steamboat Springs High School baseball coach, Rusty McRight understands just how hard it is to build a baseball program in Ski Town USA.
Each year, the coach is faced with a long list of challenges that include cold, snow and limited practice facilities.
This season, for example, the Sailors will get onto a baseball field for the first time on Thursday afternoon — the day before the Sailors play Harrison in the opening game of the 2017 season. For the past two weeks the Steamboat boys have played on a field with dimensions better suited for football, soccer and lacrosse.
“I don’t really see the challenges,” McRight said. “Most of what we face is simply accepted.”
Instead of complaining, McRight has shifted his attention to building a baseball culture in the shadows of Mount Werner.
“It’s really hard to build a baseball culture up here, but we are looking for ways to improve it, to grow it.” the coach said.
This year, he may be seeing some success as the program has grown from a 12-player roster, which was unable to round out the 2016 season because of injuries, to over 20 players with a good mix of seniors, juniors and freshmen. The team’s only sophomore player Navy Karow travels from Oak Creek to put on the Sailors uniform.
Most of those players were on the artificial surface of the high school’s athletic field Tuesday working on fielding balls and throwing accurately back to a coach. The drill was limited to half the field because the team was sharing the field with the girls lacrosse team.
It’s not ideal since the game of baseball is normally played on a diamond, but this is what coach McRight and his staff have to work with.
“We work on the things that we can,” McRight said. “We have been looking forward to Thursday because it is our first chance to get on a baseball field this season. We get a chance to practice Thursday, and then again Friday morning before our first game.”
McRight is also looking forward to some team building as the squad begins to lay the ground work for what McRight hopes is a successful 2017 campaign.
“I really think it’s going to be good for us,” McRight said. "We’ve rented a big house, and we are going to spend a lot of time getting to know one another."
The good news is that the roster for this year’s baseball team is nearly twice the size it was in 2016, and while the coach isn’t measuring success on wins and losses, there is no question he would like to put last year’s 2-14 season in the past.
This year’s team will include returning seniors Alejandro Sandoval, Solomon Weltzheimer and Tucker Limberg — players the coach is hoping will step into leadership roles.
The roster also includes first-year seniors Diamere Blout and Jake Huselton and juniors Jack Boyle, Nate Roach, Quintin White, Vidal Zuniga and Theodore Hansen. There are also five freshmen joining the team.
As expected, all of the team’s 19 varsity games will be played on the road. The team will play double headers against Palisade, Glenwood Springs, Eagle Valley, Roaring Fork, Battle Mountain, Rifle and Summit. The closest the team will come to home will be the final double-header of the season against Moffat County on May 8.
The team had originally planned to play a four-game tournament this weekend hosted by Mitchell. But a major coaching change at Mitchell, and some confusion with tournament organizers left the Sailors out.
The team scrambled to get the game against Harrison at 4 p.m. on Friday. The Sailors have also lined up a scrimmage with Classical Academy Saturday.
The Sailors will also field a junior varsity program, something that didn’t happen last year. The JV will play five games this season.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966