It won’t look like a traditional summer baseball program in this area, with packed travel schedules and multiple levels of play.
But it’s still the return of live action to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
The LC 19U team, a new “travel” team comprised of Lewis-Clark American Legion players, recently has been assembled, and has been practicing for about two weeks now as coronavirus restrictions loosen. LC tentatively is set to open competition at 5 p.m. Wednesday in a doubleheader against a Pullman-based club team.
“At first, it was a conversation of — if we ended up not going forward with Legion — that I’d be willing to help out with putting together some type of practices or workouts,” said coach Kevin Maurer, who usually leads the Twins this time of the year. “Then it trickled down to, ‘Maybe we can play some games.’”
“I reached out to players to see if they were interested, and if parents were OK with it, and as more got back (to me), it started to look more realistic.”
LC has scraped together seven doubleheaders, three single games, and two Palouse Summer Series tournaments, between Wednesday and Aug. 2. Opponents include a similarly assembled Pullman team, a co-op from Oregon, Bellevue, Kennewick and Southridge (Tri-Cities). Maurer said the Palouse Summer Series, in particular, could provide aspiring players a look from college scouts.
To prevent potential spread of the coronavirus, games have been scheduled in a four- or five-game series format. LC won’t be traveling — save perhaps once to Pullman and the Palouse Summer Series.
“We wanted to do it as safely as possible,” Maurer said. “We’ve been patient with the whole process, making sure we’re doing things right and giving kids enough time before we start games. As we go, we’ll see how much of a season we can get in, depending on the situation.”
Maurer said it’s looking promising Church Field will be put to use during the next month, with a possibility of playing some games at Lewis-Clark State’s Harris Field.
“We’ve gotten access to practice at Church. It’s just making sure all protocols and guidelines are correct,” he said.
If play moves to Harris, fans will be prohibited. At Church Field, overhead parking will provide a view. Players’ body temperatures will be measured, and each team will use its own game ball.
The team features young collegiates and several high school standouts from Lewiston and surrounding areas. Nine Bengals are joined on the roster by an Asotin star, a Lapwai product, a Genesee Bulldog and an Orofino Maniac. Four players — Lewiston’s Dawson Bonfield and Dalton Hart; Lapwai’s Tui Moliga and Panther stalwart Noah Renzelman — are signed with Northwest community colleges.
Bonfield’s father, Ben, was a “huge proponent of getting something going,” Maurer noted.
The goals won’t include state titles and qualifying for the regional tournament. Instead, it’ll be about recouping time from seasons lost because of the pandemic, and giving players a chance to fine-tune after a long stretch away.
“Obviously it was pretty painful for the kids, parents and coaches to miss out on a whole season, and not just for baseball,” Maurer said. “This is an opportunity to rejuvenate, and get the passion and love for the game back, and improve while doing it.
“This is more: Let’s keep improving on your skill sets and have a growth mindset through this process, and hopefully get some live reps in before your next spring season, or you go off to college. It’s difficult to take a year off, you can lose a lot in that aspect.”
Some Idaho Legion teams have begun their seasons, but with L-C Legion fielding three teams, Maurer said the safe and efficient option was to whittle it down into one group. Players from the Cubs and Bucs recently have been brought up to practice with the veterans.
LC will keep it simple. The team won’t have a mascot, and will sport navy shirts with their numbers on the back and an “LC” on the front.
Maurer has had some assistance from area players and coaches, as well. Lewiston graduate Julian Washburn, a pitcher at the University of San Francisco, has been in charge of the staff. Clarkston’s Bruce Bensching has helped out, along with LCSC coach Jake Taylor, whose son, Elliott, plays for the team. Some former Twins — including Jackson Fuller, Garrett Beckman, Luke White and Cooper Lund — have offered intelligence while simultaneously knocking off their own rust.
“That’s what I love about coaching in the valley, there’s always that family aspect,” Maurer said. “We all work together and try to improve each other.”
With limited numbers and time to hone in, Maurer isn’t ready to highlight a team M.O., but LC must be versatile. Almost everyone will need to pitch at some point, and play multiple positions, which should be a boon for players’ futures.
In any case, this team is anxious to play and simply glad to be back on the diamond.
“The first time they heard that crack of the ball coming off the bat — seeing that smile after that ‘whap’ — that freshly cut grass and the sound of a ball hitting a mitt, that was a different feeling,” he said. “It’s a game-changer, it gives you a moment to breathe and get back to that joy.
“We always preach to play like every pitch is the last; you never know when it’ll be taken away. I really appreciate all these guys who’ve come out. The growth of baseball in this valley is because guys stick with it.”
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 627-3209.
LC 19U 2020 schedule
Home games played at Church Field, possibly at Harris Field later in the season:
July 1 — Pullman (DH), 5 p.m.
July 2 — Pullman (DH)*, 5 p.m.
July 3 — Pullman, 5 p.m.
July 7 — TBA Oregon team
July 9 — Bellevue (DH)
July 10 — Bellevue (DH)
July 11 — Bellevue
July 14 — Kennewick (DH)
July 15 — Kennewick (DH)
July 19 — Southridge (DH)
July 23 — Palouse Summer Series+
July 24 — Palouse Summer Series+
July 25 — Palouse Summer Series+
July 26 — Palouse Summer Series+
July 30 — Palouse Summer Series+
July 31 — Palouse Summer Series+
Aug. 1 — Palouse Summer Series+
Aug. 2 — Palouse Summer Series+
* — game might be played in Pullman, if field is available
+ — location and time TBD
Austin Kolb, C/OF (Lewiston)
Jack Johnson, Utility (Genesee)
Dawson Bonfield, 1B/P (Lewiston, Umpqua Community College)
Tui Moliga, C/OF (Lapwai, Walla Walla Community College)
D.J. Ricard, OF (Lewiston)
Cole McKenzie, Utility (Lewiston)
Trayton Skinner, P/OF (Lewiston)
Jose Barajas, INF (Orofino)
Elliott Taylor, INF/P (Lewiston)
Xavier Pea, P (Lewiston)
Noah Renzelman, P/3B (Asotin, Walla Walla Community College)
Chris Ricard, INF/P (Lewiston)
Dalton Hart, P/OF (Lewiston, Columbia Basin College)