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Summer league giving coaches a chance to develop teams

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 19, 2020 at 4:00 PM

The East Tennessee High School Baseball League is a hit with two of the area’s top coaches.

While the summer league doesn’t take the place of a lost high school spring, it has given coaches, players and fans something to enjoy.

“It’s appealing to see, especially with the Cardinals’ and Twins’ parks being nice venues. I’ve had a parent or two send me a message how they enjoy it more than the weekend stuff they go to,” Dobyns-Bennett coach Ryan Wagner said. “We had a pretty good crowd as people are wanting to get out and be around sports again. They’ve got it more entertaining and competitive instead of a scrimmage.”

The teams don’t have an official affiliation with the high schools although Wagner coaches Team Whited, which is comprised of D-B players and named for former Indians coach John Whited. A team of Science Hill players is known as Home of Daniel Norris, named for the current Detroit Tigers pitcher. Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards is similar to his D-B counterpart in that he believes the summer league is giving different players a chance to shine.

“We’re playing guys in a rotation with about 13 position players and eight to 10 pitchers that we’re evaluating for next year,” Edwards said. “It’s good for us to see them compete on the field.”

Both coaches lamented the fact the regular high school season was lost for the 2020 seniors.

On the bright side, the summer league has given the duo a chance to work with the younger kids both individually and toward team goals. Wagner saw a good example of that in Team Whited’s 8-2 win over the Cyclones on Monday evening.

“It’s not something where we make huge changes, but more fine-tuning,” Wagner said. “The kid we threw, Peyton Grimm, he’s an upcoming junior who hasn’t pitched a lot, but has a really good arm. Coach (Bo) Burton took him down to the bullpen and made a couple of adjustments. After that, he took off.

“The last guy we threw, Jack Browder, is a good basketball player, and we don’t get a lot of time with him in the offseason. We’re trying to drop him down sidearm. He’s 6-3, so that’s a good time to do that in the summer.”

Wagner liked how athletic his team appeared and the power they showed. He also sees it as a good chance to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different players.

His Monday lineup had Jake Timbes in the lead-off spot, followed by pitcher Grimm and Sam Ritz, the grandson of former D-B coach Mike Ritz, hitting third. Greg Pastrick was the cleanup batter with Gage Hensley and Turner Stout in the middle of the lineup.

“I thought we looked like a pretty good baseball team,” Wagner said. “We want to win every game, but we look at this a little different. Our first game, I took a younger bunch over to the Twins field to play. We wanted to see some sophomores who are coming up, so we have two rosters with the older kids playing about eight games and the younger kids playing four.”

Edwards had a chance to look at his vast young talent. Some like Conner Hyatt, Jack Torbett and Cole Torbett have proven themselves at the varsity level. Throw in Jaxon Diamond, Gavin Briggs, Evan King, Josh McMakin and others, and the summer league gives them a chance to further their games.

“We lost a lot of things you can’t get back in a high school summer league because the pieces aren’t there to do it,” Edwards said. “None of the teams are as good as they would have been in the spring. But I commend Boyd Sports for giving us an opportunity to do this.

“It gives us a chance to develop players that one can’t understand unless they’ve coached a team. Some people think you just put them all out there and just watch. You have to help them through their 0-for-3 days at the plate or if a pitcher walks batters or guys make errors, you have to pick them back up. It’s something you have to learn in the competitiveness of playing a game.”

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