Column: David Santee making a difference at ROP | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Column: David Santee making a difference at ROP

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

It’s easy for a dugout to make a lot of noise with a 10-run lead.The real challenge for a baseball club is a dugout’s demeanor when a game is out of reach.

If the scoreboard wasn’t operating Tuesday, a late-arriving spectator at Todd Fields might have guessed that Rite of Passage was upsetting the South Tahoe Vikings.

There was nonstop chatter coming out of the ROP dugout. The Rams shouted encouragement as each of their batters took turns trying to hit Vikings’ pitchers Christian Winslow, Notanee Vasquez and Tanner Braun. ROP’s bench players yelled their approval for each strike thrown by pitcher Luis Infante and showed their support when he fell behind in the count.

The Rams were so favorable that they must have been listening to positive-thinking tapes instead of Lil Wayne on the long ride from Yerington to South Lake Tahoe. Why were these incorrigible juveniles so pleasant and constructive?

If you ever got to know David Santee while he lived in South Lake Tahoe years ago, you’d know why.

ROP’s new baseball skipper is a difference-maker, not only in the game of baseball but in shaping young men’s lives. The former South Tahoe High junior varsity baseball coach is trying to instill the qualities that were obviously missing in these young men’s lives.

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“We haven’t had any issues with these kids,” Santee said. “It’s a different level of play that I coach. A lot of kids don’t know how to respect life.”

Even though the Rams have avoided the 10-run mercy rule in all but four of their games this season, they have been the ones who have consistently been the gentlemen on the field.

“The fact that they are competing against somebody in a friendly manner, and they are not reacting in a bad way is huge for these guys,” Santee said. “They’ve had to deal with a kid getting hit by pitches, and the kid is ready to go out there and fight him because he’s taking it personal.”

Just like in “Gridiron Gang,” the team has become a surrogate family to many of the players. They have put aside their differences and hate for the greater good of their team.

“What’s even more important there is that these guys on the bench are cheering for guys who might be from rival gangs. It’s a reality right now that these guys have to support each other, even though they don’t like that kid in the street or they don’t even like that kid back at site,” Santee said. “As soon as they got on this team, you have to get over all that. Once we cross those lines, it’s baseball, that’s your team and you have to back up your teammate, and they did that today.”

When the final out was recorded, South Tahoe had administered an 11-2 defeat to ROP. But after exchanging friendly postgame handshakes with the South Tahoe players, the Rams spent the next 20 minutes in right field, breathing in life. They tossed pop flies to each other and coaxed Santee to take as many pictures of them as possible.

“They all want to send these pictures of the mountains and themselves in baseball uniforms home to their mom,” Santee said.

They should also let their moms know that their baseball coach is making a difference in their lives. Santee cares about them and their futures.

“It’s very rewarding,” Santee said. “They are just loving the game of baseball, and they are having new experiences.”