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Preaching hard work

By By Matthew Nascone
The 2008 version of the Escambia County Blue Devils will have one major change when they hit the diamond Tuesday for their first game.
The man who led the Devils to a 1989 State Championship as a player and led the Blue Devils for many years from the third base coaching box, Keith Nall, is no longer the head coach of the team. But first year head coach Jonathan Rasberry seems to have the Blue Devils headed in the right direction.
"We are working hard and that is always a good preview for the season because you play the games like you practice," Rasberry said.
Rasberry has preached one major thing to the team since his arrival in July of last year.
"Right now we are really incorporating the team atmosphere and that is what I have preached since I got here," he said. "I think we are coming together at a good time. We have done a lot of what I call mental toughness. We do certain things to get them mentally tough and prepared for the games. They are also teamwork things and I think the biggest thing about this team is that they are a team. That will make a difference in the long run because if we can stay together and battle through adversity, I think we will be in really good shape."
Rasberry said the Devils are not going to knock the lights out of Tom Byrne Park, but they should be able to score runs using other tactics.
"Compared to other 4A teams, our power is probably average," Rasberry said. "We are not going to hit 30 home runs this year, but I do think we will hit some. I think we have a good bit of speed that is going to help us. We are definitely going to be aggressive on the base paths. That is something I like to do personally and we have worked on base running. We have really preached to read dirt balls and be aggressive on the bases. We want to force a throw because in high school baseball if you can force a throw, most of the time it is not going to be a perfect throw."
The approach at the plate may be a little different than what the Blue Devils have had in the past.
"At the plate, the biggest thing I am trying to get these guys to understand is to see the ball deep and hit the ball to the opposite field," Rasberry said. "They are not used to that approach and I have preached that approach. I think once we buy into that approach it is going to be tough to stop us on the offensive side of the ball."
The Blue Devils lost senior pitchers Kevin Green and Jonathan McNeil last year and this year will have more of a pitcher by committee feel to it, but Rasberry calls it something else.
"We joke around about what we will say when people ask us who we are throwing today and we say 'Johnny Wholestaff,'" he said. "They get a kick out of that, but that is the truth. But we have (junior) Cody Vickrey coming back and he has some experience. He is a good lefthander to throw into the mix. We do have junior Michael Thomas who can throw the ball effectively."
ECHS will also have some younger guys throw some on the hill.
"We have some young guys out there, Marshall Rolin and Ryan Linam who may throw a little bit for us," Rasberry said. "And coach (David) Hill has done a great job working with all our pitchers."
With such a young team, Rasberry said he will be focusing on the little things.
"In baseball, things can snowball on you," he said. "One error can turn into five runs, so we continue to preach to stop the bleeding and don't let it snowball on you. When you make an error, pick yourself up because we tend to get down on ourselves a lot of times. And it is easy to do in baseball when one error can cost you a run, but don't let it cost you five."
The ultimate goal of any team is to make the playoffs, and Rasberry said he hopes he can use the tough schedule he set up to make the playoffs.
"If we make the playoffs anything can happen," Rasberry said. "We match up with Andalusia or Miller or someone out of that area in the first round. I have already looked at it because I expect to be there. We expect certain things, but as far as goals are concerned we want to make the playoffs and see how far that carries us. Another goal would be to be above .500. That would be a positive note for us with as many tough opponents we have on the schedule. I think that is accomplishable. Those are the two main goals that we have been preaching."
Some of those tough opponents include, Spanish Fort and UMS Wright.
To get his squad ready, Rasberry has been putting them through various rigorous activities.
"I really want them to compete," he said. "At practice I can't tell you how many times we do some kind of motivation drill for our scrimmages. Whether it is that the losing team has poles or sprints or whatever. We are really trying to get these kids to compete because if we can compete day in and day out we will be in every part of the ball game."
The Blue Devils have a trio of seniors who will lead them on and off the field.
"Kyle Parish has come out and helped us," Rasberry said. "He is doing a real good job of being a leader. He gets people going, he is exciting and energetic. He is sometimes off the wall, but he is doing a good job and I am glad to have him out there as a leader and a player. Justin Rolin is really concentrating hard out there this year. And Elliot Faircloth is my other senior who has had some experience playing at the varsity level.
Rasberry will take leadership in any form his players want to give it.
"We have some experienced guys who can help us out and it just depends on whether they want to do it vocally or on the field," he said. "Either way is a positive for the team."
The Blue Devils open the season Tuesday against the Flomaton Hurricanes in a double header in Atmore. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.