New challenges, new thrills greet Eudora grad
Sitting on a bucket in the Cardinals dugout, Mark Abel knows he's seen it before.
The walks, the missed signs and the missed plays at the plate have all been things the former Eudora baseball player has seen in bunches, and Saturday was no exception as the Cardinals took on the Hornets at the 3 and 2 Baseball Club of Johnson County.
This time around, however, there was one thing that was different.
This time Abel was the coach and could only watch the proceedings on the field.
"It's different," Abel said. "It's weird not being out there. You can call the pitches and some of the other plays, but other than that you just watch them play."
Abel fell into the role after the Cardinals' wrapped up their tremendous run to the state tournament and Eudora coach Dirk Kinney had duties with a younger squad.
"Coach Kinney knew I wasn't doing anything," Abel said. "He asked me if I would like to continue some of the things he was doing with the team."
Abel, along with assistant coach Arline Kindle, oversees the group of sophomores who have potential to perhaps be starters for future varsity squads.
Players like Bryan Dudley, Michael Bricker and Saturday's starting pitcher Zane Pittman have all taken up the roles which Abel and many of his Cardinal teammates had over the course of the last four years in preparing for the varsity squad by playing summer baseball.
Saturday's game ended with the Cardinals' falling to the Hornets, 12-11.
Abel said it won't affect the team long, however, as this season's achievements won't be weighed in wins and losses come August.
Rather the success will be judged next spring and the spring after when the young players take over the high school's varsity program.
"They all need improvement and playing in the summer is a good way to do it," Abel said. "There are a lot of guys here who can be pretty good if they work hard. They know they just can't show up in March and expect to play.
"None of them have just shown up and gone through the motions. That shows me respect, like they hear what I'm saying."
The effort has generated some positive results for the sophomore team since its inception nearly a week after Abel's season with the varsity squad ended.
The team opted out of joining a summer league, which played only on Tuesdays, in favor of hitting the tournament circuit, with a chance to play more teams and more games.
So far the tournament schedule, put together by Kindle, has had the Cardinals playing across the state line in Missouri for two tournaments and in last weekend's College Showcase at the 3 and 2 complex.
The squad has already seen its work start to pay off. In the team's second week of tournament play, they traveled to Belton, Mo., for the 2006 USSSA High School Division Sports America Tournament, where it captured the first-place trophy.
"Those teams were pretty good," Abel said of the competition. "We were just in the zone. They've come a long way since the beginning."
The team will finish out the summer schedule with a trip to Ottawa this weekend, before heading back to 3 and 2 ball park to finish the season at the state tournament, going head-to-head with 15 other teams.
As for Abel, the change of perspective has left an impression, despite the fact he is no longer on the field in Cardinal red. The switch from contributor to overseer is something which may be in his future, especially since he's picked up some of his former head coach's habits while watching the team.
"Coach Kinney walks around with a wood bat in his hands all the time," Abel said. "I catch myself doing that sometimes. (Coaching) is catchy and it's definitely something I would like to keep doing."