Baseball, softball in good hands

In this era of sports we live in, at least at the professional level, everything is “win now.” There is no room left in major sports for rebuilding or reloading, it is all win, win, win.

This line of thinking led to the Florida Panthers dropping Andrew Brunette as the interim head coach after they won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team, but then lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight games.

We saw the same thing in the NBA numerous times already in these playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks fired Mike Budenholzer after getting swept by the Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs. Budenholzer led the Bucks to an NBA title in 2020-21.

Other prominent coaches have gotten the proverbial axe this year. The Philadelphia 76ers fired Doc Rivers after just three seasons. In the NHL, the New York Rangers fired Gerard Gallant. Gallant has been a three-time finalist for the NHL’s Jack Adams Award as the league’s top head coach. He won it in 2018 while coaching the Vegas Golden Knights.

Where does it end?

At the collegiate level, things are not much better. With the NCAA’s transfer portal set up the way it has been the last few years, questions arise quickly when a coach does not simply grab the top available players in order to build “the most talented team” they can.

For me, these discussions get very difficult very fast. Everyone loves winning, for sure, but what about growing the team, growing the game? Can you get better by taking the time to do so?

This is part of why I love high school and youth sports. Coaches at those levels are there to teach. If they have success along the way, that is great. Corey Markham did not always win with the Houghton Gremlins hockey team, but when his teams were strong, they were strong. The same can be said of Jim Crawford in Calumet, John Croze in Calumet, and Dan Rouleau in Hancock. While they coached different sports, they all found ways to help their student athletes grow.

When I look around the area at the local baseball and softball teams, I cannot help but feel good about the direction things are going right now.

To me, it all starts with Luke Paul, who manages the Jeffers Jets baseball team. He has surrounded himself with his father Nels, and his good buddy Mike Saari, and the group of Jets coaches are all positive influences on their young athletes.

I see the same thing with Kevin Bostwick at Houghton. While he is young, he connects well with his players, and that will help them grow. I see his influence even from game to game of a doubleheader.

He also has the benefit of having a junior varsity coach in Joe Romano who has been working hard with the youngest Gremlins to get them varsity-ready.

David Yeo continues to be a good voice for Calumet baseball. I have not seen them play this Spring, because there are only so many nights that games are played, and it just has not worked out for me this year, but I know he does a great job, and he has a good feel for his players year in and year out.

I also like what I have seen out of Travis Pietila and Brent Loukus at Hancock. The duo have a very young baseball team, but they are figuring things out, and Pietila and Loukus both have good heads for the game, so they can help the Bulldogs figure things out within innings, rather than between games.

In softball, I continue to be impressed with the job Randy Heinonen and his staff is doing at Hancock. With Craig Biekkola, Gary Scholie and Hannah Impola along for the ride, the quartet have been building a strong program with the Bulldogs where the focus is on fundamentals of the game.

Melissa Baker at Houghton knows the game inside and out. A pitcher in the Summer, Baker continues to be a coach who can find ways to rally her team game in and game out.

Joel Rastello and Matt Vertin, like Heionen and his staff, find ways to draw great games out of Calumet. I am also impressed how Rastello handles the personalities of his team, finding ways to motivate them every year.

At the junior varsity level, Calumet is blessed with Rosalie Anderson-Kangas, she and her sister, Larissa are doing a very good job of teaching the younger Copper Kings how to improve their game one piece at a time.

Molly Bugni and Laura Ruohonen have both had tough seasons with their respective teams. Bugni’s L’Anse squad is small and young, but she is working on slowly getting the Purple Hornets back off the mat. Ruohonen’s task at Jeffers has been even harder. She came into this season with just four kids who had ever played softball before. That is a lot of teaching and patience necessary to build growth within the Jets’ program, which did not compete for three seasons before this one.

I know I have not named all of the area’s coaches in this column, but to be honest, I have not seen all of their teams this season. After all, it is tough to see everyone when the weather has been as challenging as it has been this season.

Coaching at the high school level can often feel like a thankless job. You have to spend hours teaching the game, honing the game, and often dealing with student athletes who are teenagers and can lose focus quickly depending on the time of year. However, I do feel as though the local baseball and softball teams each have a very good coaching staff, one able to help the players grow, both as athletes and as people.


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