BAKER — Scott Johnson’s first offseason as the new Baker baseball coach has finally ended.
With the official start of preseason practice last week, Johnson got his team on the field for a crash course in the Gators’ new way of playing baseball.
The week concluded Saturday with an overnighter that started with 3 p.m. practice Friday afternoon.
“We’ve done the overnight thing at Mount Dora in Orlando, we did it in Georgia at Harris County and we did it three years at Choctawhatchee High School,” Johnson said. “It builds some camaraderie. What the guys understand is baseball has to mean something to them.
“If we gave them today off, a lot of these kids, under normal circumstances, would be sitting at the house or in the woods or something. Now, they have to be here practicing baseball just during baseball season. It brings everybody closer together and we learn a lot.”
The overnighter was more than a giant sleepover at the school. Every aspect of the 20-hour event had a specific purpose in teaching players to work with each other and strengthen the Gators’ bond.
The night included, among other things, physical training sessions, drills to rescue a downed pilot, players serving turns on night watch and the team watching the classic Clint Eastwood movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
Many of the activities came from Johnson’s military days.
“Basically, what we need is when the umpire points to the batter and says, ‘Play ball,’ we know that we have nine soldiers on the field, nine players that are going to play as hard as they can play,” he said. “They are going to do everything the right way. And if they don’t do it the right way, they are going to do it as hard as they can and learn from their mistakes.”
Johnson, who was most recently at Choctaw and has coached at other large schools and at the junior college level, likes what he has seen from the Gators.
He has been most impressed by the players’ willingness to ask questions as they digest the new drills he’s installing with the program.
“One of the things I like about these kids is there is a lot of automatic feedback,” he said. “A lot of the things we do, at bigger schools, the players have done travel ball and they take those things for granted. Well here, the kids have never heard those things and they do a good job of picking up on them.
“What we consider the littlest thing is something these guys have never heard of and they jump all over it and they listen. They are getting a lot of stuff thrown at them and I’m going to be excited to see how it turns out.”
Johnson stressed that baseball is a game where the biggest, strongest and fastest don’t always come out on top.
“The thing, to me, that makes baseball special and the best game in the world is the best player doesn’t necessarily always win,” he said. “You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and you’ve got to be fundamentally correct and then you have to understand the game.
“If you can do those things — be in the right place at the right time, get there and be fundamentally sound when you get there and talk to each other and communicate — then you have a pretty good chance of being as good as you can be.”
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524