Leavenworth baseball overcomes obstacles, has bright future
Less than two years ago, there was a lot of momentum heading into Justin Bode’s second season as Leavenworth baseball’s head coach. The team had 12 seniors with no lack of leadership and had just seen a proposal for a $3.2 million baseball/softball complex that belonged to the school district.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
“It (COVID-19) really hurt us as a program,” Bode said. “We had 12 seniors who had their last season of baseball ripped away from them. As far as the development of the program goes, we had a whole bunch of sophomores and freshmen who didn't get a season of high school baseball under their belt.”
The lack of experience was a detriment to the Pioneers, who finished with a 3-16 overall record, as only three athletes came into the season with varsity baseball experience.
Bode, who has spent more than 15 years at Leavenworth in addition to his head coaching experience, said the lost season and everything else involved has been a setback for the program’s development.
“Well, we're a year behind schedule,” he said. “We knew what we were getting into and we've got a plan set in place to start at a certain level and teach the game of baseball and gradually teach more and more aspects of the game.”
He also acknowledged that these factors can lead to some competitive imbalance.
“When you play in our league a year behind is a big deal,” he said. “We played some hammers this year, some good 6A schools. And, you know, we were behind as far as baseball knowledge and just baseball in general, and a lot of that is attributed to not having that season last year.”
After losing 12 seniors last year, the Pioneers parted ways with just two graduates in Sean Goings – first-team All-UKC – and Ross Brown III, who was injured for the majority of the season.
“Ross was the kid you want to build your program around,” Bode said. “He was injured most of the year but he never complained. He was there every day as a presence in the dugout. He's just your leader. Those two are going to be missed tremendously."
Bode said there are plenty of positives from this season despite the results not always being there. The Pioneers went from having three varsity experienced players to what Bode estimates is over 20 now.
“We had a plethora of young men who gained valuable varsity and junior varsity experience this year,” he said, “and a lot of kids who played 23-24 games of baseball to make sure that they got as much maximized as possible.”
This season could be likened to a rebuild as the Pioneers focused on putting together a solid group of kids who can compete in the coming seasons at the varsity level.
“We knew it would be rough,” Bode said, “knowing what we had and what we didn't have. But we developed guys and helped them learn our system and the little nuances of how to play baseball.”
The Pioneers will have a solid core of experience entering next season with key returners Wesley Redelberger, Brandon Jones and Devon Bruning coming off of All-UKC seasons.
New complex nearly complete
The Pioneers’ new baseball/softball complex, located next to Richard Warren Middle School on New Lawrence Road is still undergoing construction on two of its four fields but both the Leavenworth softball and baseball teams were able to use the completed fields to compete this season.
Bode highlighted the importance of the new complex and having fields that belonged to the program.
“It's absolutely spectacular,” he said. “It's something that we're going to be proud of for a very long time, something that we're going to cherish, something that is going to help our program get noticed.”
In one way, the new fields have already paid off, as KSHSAA needed to relocate a softball regional to the new complex after weather prevented the original fields from being used.
The Pioneers will also have the ability to use the fields whenever they need and can tend to and prep as they see fit. Bode said these factors will give the programs a lot more opportunities to improve
“Just the sheer amount of practice time that we are not going to lose anymore because of weather, because of that turf surface is going to pay huge dividends,” he said.
The continued construction has one detriment as the baseball program has elected not to hold its normal camp this season to eliminate the risk of having nearly 100 kids so close to an active construction site.
Bode said he plans to hold camps in the future and even teased the idea of an alumni game and reunion with the softball program included.
“Moving forward, we'll do camps, we'll have an alumni weekend with the softball team so they can invite their alumni back,” he said. “We want to make it a big deal. Have a game, some refreshments and maybe grill out. Just to kind of tie into our alumni and welcome them back to something that they never had when they played here.”