GLADSTONE - Call these Gladstone Braves 'The Centurions.'
No, they aren't commanding a team of 100 baseball players, but it has been over half a century since a Braves baseball team has taken the field. At some indefinite point this spring, this Gladstone team will be the first since 1959 to take the diamond.
The self-funded team will have its share of challenges but this will be anything but an inexperienced bunch of rookies when they take the field for the first time.
"We have 4-5 kids with (American) Legion experience from last year," said manager Don Lauscher, who returns to the coaching ranks after a one-year hiatus - he previously coached at Escanaba.
Some familiar faces from the Gladstone Indians will include seniors Blake Ballard and Lucas LaCosse, juniors Christian Groleau and Christian Tackman and sophomore Justin Jurek.
Others on the roster are picking the game back up after a lengthy break.
April 19 - at Cheboygan; April 20 - at Chippewa Hills; April 23 - Negaunee; April 25 - at Norway.
May 2 - Marquette; May 4 - at Escanaba Invitational; May 6 - Norway; May 9 - at Escanaba; May 10 - Sault Ste. Marie; May 11 - at Southern Door; May 15 - at Negaunee; May 18 - at Sault Ste. Marie; May 24 - at Marquette.
"(Junior) Sam Pouliot hasn't played since eighth grade and (senior) Ryan Wilkins hasn't played in about three years, so we do have some kids coming out with not a lot of experience," said Lauscher. "One thing about this team, some may be lacking in baseball experience, but they're very good athletes. Between myself (and assistants) Kurt (Lauscher) and BJ (Lauscher), the kids will be fine-tuned by the end of the year."
Additional juniors on the team include wrestling standouts Tom Bailey and Jacob Cronick and James Capodilupo. Sophomores on the team are Jack Carey, Brad Crawford, Anthony Forrest and Jake Peterson and the two freshmen are Elliot Danhoff and Delta County Junior League standout Hunter Garling.
Lauscher said baseball is coursing through the blood of some of his players that primarily play the sport.
"Justin Jurek is a good football and basketball player but his No. 1 sport is baseball. The same goes for Hunter Garling for sure. Lucas LaCosse is another one. He hasn't missed any open gyms. He loves the game of baseball and it shows; He's leading by example and as a senior, you definitely need that," he said.
Lauscher feels one of the team's strengths will be pitching, as he pointed to 6-7 kids capable of doing the job on the mound.
"Our pitching is set. We have at least six quality arms, none of which are dominant, but they're very solid," he said. "We're probably led by Blake Ballard. He has a lot of pitching experience and so far this spring, he has looked very solid in the gym. Our other pitchers are Justin Jurek who is a very quality pitcher, Christian Groleau, Sam Pouliot and Hunter Garling. Christian Tackman will do some pitching also along with Jake Peterson."
Lauscher said regardless of where his team falls, they will know the fundamentals when they take the field. His staff has spent a lot of time trying to perfect certain aspects of the game.
"Our fielding is coming along very good because we teach fundamentals. We do a lot of drill work and proper positioning. It's fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You can't take enough reps," he said. "To us, it's all about focus and concentration and working hard in practice. There's that old saying that practice makes perfect, in our book, perfect practice makes perfect. That's always been our coaching style. We never move on to anything else until we perfect what we're doing at the time."
Due to being stuck indoors, the coaching staff hasn't gotten to truly evaluate the outfielders but Lauscher said he should have strength up the middle.
"Our middle infielders should be pretty solid with Ballard, Pouliot, Capodilupo and Forrest and LaCosse and Tackman anchoring third for us," he said. "Pitching and defense will win a lot of games for you. Our hitting has a long way to go, but they're working extremely hard on technique and what I really like about this group is that they're students of the game. They want to learn and get better."
There will be readjustment coming as the Legion players on the team switch over to the less powerful BBCOR bats.
"It's going to change how we do everything," said Lauscher. "There won't be a lot of home runs this year, but the one thing I really like, is we're loaded with speed. I've always been a very aggressive coach on the basepath. We'll play a lot of small ball, steal some bases and put a lot of pressure on the defenses we play."
For Lauscher, he has spent the last year hungry and is more than ready to get back into it.
"I really am excited to be back in Gladstone. It's almost like coming back home in a sense because it's such a family atmosphere here," he said. "Being that I coached the Legion team in 05-06, I'm used to the field and used to the atmosphere. Of course, I'm very excited to be coaching with my son Kurt and nephew BJ. It's kind of a dream come true. BJ and Kurt both played at the college level and they bring so much knowledge, and the kids relate to the younger coaches."
The team has been working hard for months and when the weather finally allows to them on to the field they will display just how far they've come.
"I thought it was very crucial that they hired me in September," said Lauscher. "I told the school board the sooner we can start raising money and get kids on the field and run fall ball, the better. (Athletic Director) Matt Houle has been very helpful in getting open gyms throughout the winter. Everyone is working together.
"I'm really excited about being a Gladstone Brave. The biggest thing is working with the youth and building a solid program at Gladstone."
Note: Thursday's game between Escanaba and Gladstone at Gladstone Sports Park has been postponed. A rescheduled date has not yet been announced.