Turning around the Twins
After longtime Sanibel Little League commissioner Dick Muench retired last year following 35 years of service, Eric Pfeifer stepped into the vacated position, leaving a coaching void with the Twins.
Willing to take on that responsibility, volunteer coach Rusty Farst was named the new leader of the squad, which he had high hopes in bringing a winning season when the 2009 campaign rolled around.
“I had played baseball in junior high, but I had never coached before,” said Farst, who admitted that he had “no clue” how much work went into the task. “At our first practice, we had kids running all over the place and I didn’t know how I could get my players focused on learning how to play the game.”
Farst immediately knew that he had probably bitten off more than he could chew. But he also happened upon an interesting idea: bringing in a few “guest” instructors.
“I thought that if I brought in some other coaches to help me out, I could learn how to do my job better while the kids learned how to play baseball,” he added. “It’s been great. The kids listen, everything is well organized and the team has been playing great.”
Every week, Farst has invited other coaches and parents within the Sanibel Little League – including Shannon Tumminello, Tom Traucht, Vince Damico and Pfeifer – to take part in Twins team practices, each of them focusing on an individual specialty or skill.
And last week, Farst brought in a couple of pros.
Rontrez Johnson, a resident of Cape Coral who played in the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals organizations, and Jason McCartney of Lehigh Acres, a player at both Jefferson Davis Community College and the University of West Florida, attended a pair of practices at The Sanibel School’s baseball diamond complex. They taught baseball basics to the youngsters: baserunning, throwing techniques, fielding grounders and fly balls as well as one-on-one hitting instruction.
“We’ve been working with them on simple, basic stuff,” said McCartney. “But it’s amazing how much they’ve learned in only two or three hours.”
According to Johnson, one of the players came into practice never being taught how to throw a baseball properly. But after a little bit of personal instruction, the youngster’s tosses were flying farther than those of his teammates.
“I try to reinforce what their dads have been telling them, but they’re more inclined to listen to me because they look up to us. We’ve played the game with some of the pros they admire,” said Johnson. “And we try to tell them that being a great ballplayer isn’t just ability. It’s getting good grades and doing some hard work. It doesn’t come easy.”
McCartney and Johnson are also instructors for the South Florida Swamprats, an all-star squad of the region’s best 9 to 11 year olds who travel to baseball tournaments across the state. For additional information, visit their Web site at www.southfloridaswamprats.com.
In addition to bringing in a new guest instructor every week, Farst has also brought a professional colleague – documentary filmmaker Connie Bottinelli – to the Twins practices. She has been recording the team’s progress throughout the season.
“I’m on hour 11 right now, which really isn’t a whole lot for me,” said the Emmy Award-winning documentarian and founder of Grinning Dog Pictures. “I’m looking to get a lot more than just the kids interacting on the field. I want to capture them going about their lives off the field, too.”
Bottinelli and Farst hope to gather the footage and assemble a 10-minute video yearbook as a gift for the team parents at the end of the season. They have also discussed compiling the footage into a full documentary, and may pitch the idea to a network for broadcast.
Heading in to last week’s schedule of games, the Twins record stood at 1-3 with three games remaining on their schedule. However, Farst isn’t worried about wins and losses. He just wants to see his players hone their hardball skills.
“Nothing improves one’s hearing as much as praise,” said Farst, who noted that he plans to continue inviting guest coaches to Twins practices next season.