When David Matthews took over the Community R-6 varsity boys baseball program last year what made him the right man for the job was not only his knowledge of the game, but his willingness to put in the work with the athletes both on and off the field because that commitment runs deep.
Now, after just one season in which the Trojans went 1-16 overall, 1-13 Eastern Missouri Conference, it will be Joel Krato that guides these 14 players through their initial time through the Central Activities Conference. Even though he did lose pitchers Matt Gastler and Cordell Hollensteiner to graduation, what he does have are a half-dozen seniors that have the experience to serve as the base of most standard on-the-diamond strategies and include Evan Hartsock, Nathan Gastler and Levi Rafferty.
"We are returning a lot of key cogs to our team. Although, some will play more of a role on the field, that doesn’t mean that somebody's efforts at practice everyday is not essential to the team's success," Krato said. "Every player has an effect in this program, whether it’s their attitude every day or picking their teammates up, everybody has a role in this program and those roles are just as important to our success on and off the field as any other role."
The rest of this senior class features Klayton Bosworth, Hunter Houghton and Eric Hombs. Krato is fortunate enough to have several other upperclassman at his disposal, though, such as junior Braedon Swaim, who looks to make as much noise for CR-6 at the plate and in the field as possible.
"Caden Escamilla, a junior, came out this year and will help the team in numerous ways. We also had a new kid move to the school, junior Tim Hunn. (He) will play a lot of different positions for us and provide some offense," said Krato. "Freshman Kaden Brooks and Case Stafford will provide some needed depth for us and will make needed plays for us."
One issue of continuity that'll be working in Krato's favor in 2019 is that he'll have the same assistant coach that Matthews had in 2018, Jeff Angle. Within that mindset the endgame of this programs is for its players to better prepared or whatever is comes next, whether that be school, work, more baseball, etc.
"The goal is to make this program that when you graduate you're not only a better ballplayer, but a better man who's prepared for life," Krato said. "One day, these young men are going to be fathers, husbands, somebody who's counted on to provide. They're going to be put in situations where if they don’t handle it properly, it's going to negatively affect people around them. It's mine and my assistant, as well as each teammates, to hold each other accountable, to help one another prep for those times."
Another principle Krato holds firmly to is that most people have a greater ability to excel the less challenging the circumstances are. It's only when tested does ones true self rise to the surface, and if an individual can't rise to the occasion against beyond ordinary conditions perhaps the answer to all that ails them is simply an increased level of effort.
"Our biggest strength is our work ethic. Our belief is that we will outwork everybody and anybody. We’ve been outside nearly everyday this year, even with the bad weather," said Krato. "We talked about it on the first day, 'Don’t complain. Work harder'. We’ve taken ground balls with snow on the field and taken ground balls on the sidewalk in front of the school because it’s pouring down rain. We’ve been outside playing catch, taking fly balls and other things in 17 degree weather."
This time of year is traditionally horrible to baseball fields. Anyone charged with their upkeep quite often won't even allow a team to step foot on any diamond in March that's intended for later game play. Practicing on imperfect surfaces is something programs have been doing nationwide for decades out of necessity.
It's not the pavement and sidewalk that are unique to Krato, though. It's the attitude. Baseball has lived in its own state of mind for as long as it's existed. Approaching it from a football or wrestling point of view is something this much smaller program may just find is as unique to it as it is effective.
"I’m sure other teams are also working really hard, but our philosophy is that we will always go the extra mile to outwork others, It’s Spring time in Missouri," Krato said." It is going to be wet, cold, windy, flat out terrible. Everybody can play well when it’s 75 and sunny, especially when every call by an umpire goes in your favor. But, that’s not the world we live in, so don’t complain. We are going to have umpires make calls that we disagree with. Work harder."
Even though every season works its way down to the postseason, the things that makes this slow descent into the playoffs different for CR-6 is that it comes into this year knowing exactly what its pitching staff looks like, but not truly sure who fits in where. As such, one big theme this year will be figuring out how exactly each hurler fits in the grand scheme of things. That way, once the Trojans start competing for things like CAC supremacy, they'll know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.
"All sorts of circumstances are going to come up this season that could derail a team from focusing at the task at hand, winning the game and doing it with class. This is when it comes down to which team is mentally prepared to handle those situations," said Krato. "Our weakness is we are still looking for our ace. We got a bunch of guys who can take the mound and win us a game. But, this spring we're going to look for those guys we'll throw in districts. We got some guys who will get their chance."