Vikings hire baseball coach
Doug Russell should have no trouble assessing the talent of the Viking baseball team. After all, South Tahoe High’s new baseball coach has worked in the front office for three minor league teams.
“The timing was right and I feel fortunate that South Tahoe (High) has decided to give me that chance,” said Russell, who took over Jan. 27 for departed coach Ralph Clelan. Clelan resigned as the Vikings coach in May following a 7-19 regular season. “I wanted to get into coaching. I’m excited and I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. The kids have a lot of work, too. What we’re going to have to do is bond together as a team. I look forward to it.”
Russell brings a impressive baseball resume to the South Tahoe program. As a self-described “gutty left-hander,” Russell pitched for four years for the University of California, San Diego. He later worked as an assistant general manager for the Helena Brewers (Mont.), a Class A baseball organization that feeds the Milwaukee Brewers professional team.
Russell also spent time as an assistant GM for the Bend Bandits (Ore.) of the Western Baseball League and as a general manager for the Butte Copper Kings of the Pioneer League. Many of the skills he learned in the minor league ranks are transferable to the high school level, Russell said.
“It taught me what to look for, especially the tools that are important to become a good baseball player,” said Russell, who also served as a coach for Monte Vista High School in San Diego. “It taught me how to evaluate raw talent and how to see future growth in players, both physically and emotionally.”
“I’ve seen good baseball, I’ve seen bad baseball. I’ve seen all levels. I think that is one of the strengths that I have to offer,” said Russell, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics and plans to teach mathematics next year at STHS.
Team practice will begin Feb. 27, and the team will open the season on the road March 12 at Fallon.
Russell believes that his players will step up and subscribe to his winning philosophy.
“I like a team that’s aggressive yet disciplined, that is adhered to the rules – written and unwritten – in baseball. I’m a firm believer that a hard worker will get the most out of their ability,” he said.
South Tahoe Athletic Director Frank Kovac advertised the vacancy following Clelan’s resignation in May and unearthed a number of qualified applicants for the position. Russell’s impressive baseball pedigree seemed to stand out among all the others, he said.
“The coaches in southern California that he had coached and played under could say nothing but great things about him,” Kovac said. “One of the guys that I called to check out his references gave me a grudging good report. He wanted to hire him, too.”
One of the major hurdles that encumbers high school baseball in the Lake Tahoe area is the fact that it is an outdoor sport played in an Alpine community. The season starts in early March, well before stockpiles of snow melt from area fields. The remnants of a heavy winter restrict practices to indoors, boot area teams on the road for several games at a time and often keep fan involvement low.
“I would like to increase the level of interest in baseball at the high school and at the other levels in this area,” Russell said. “I think Tahoe is a little jaded about baseball for a myriad of reasons. Weather obviously is the big one. But learning the ins and outs of a baseball game doesn’t have to be done with a ball in hand.”
Russell is not one to be afraid of work and plans to take a pro-active approach toward developing a viable baseball tradition at Viking Way.
“You can learn so much about the game just by studying situations and learning about the game,” he said. “Knowing what the count is or knowing what the averages of how often you can run on people. That kind of stuff. There’s lots to do. You can do a lot of work between those parameters.”
Ultimately, the bottom line for coaches at any level boils down to wins and losses. The South Tahoe program has seen only one playoff experience in the past 10 years and compiled a 28-56 (.333) record during Clelan’s three-year tenure. Russell readily admits that he’s not very well-versed in STHS’s baseball history or even that familiar with the players that will likely make up his 1999 team. No matter, though.
“I don’t know what our competition is like, but I hear it’s a strong league,” he said. “I would definitely like to see us make the playoffs. That may be a surprise to some, but a team that is prepared to work hard can always get out with a victory.”
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