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June 14th, 2021

bee jay rounds thirdL&T photo/Earl WattEARL WATT • Leader & Times


Two years ago, the Liberal Bee Jays were so shorthanded for pitchers that Seward County Saints assistant coach Austin King took the mound for a game. In 2021, the Bee Jays have already been able to see 10 pitchers in two games and have four more on the way.

“We had a plan coming in to get as many pitchers in to see what we had,” Liberal coach Eric Olmstead said. “We couldn’t have asked for better pitching. Offense has swung the bats pretty well. Defensively we’ve been clean. We’ve had fun for four or five days. We are still getting to learn them, but I’m pleased with how it started.”

And it has started with two wins. Liberal opened the season at home with a 9-1 win over the Denver Cougars Saturday, and Liberal traveled to Dodge City Sunday to open Kansas Collegiate Baseball League play and came away with an 11-1 win.

Liberal’s Cole Evans, a former Redskin and now a pitcher for the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, started in Dodge City and had a strong performance.

“He struck out eight in three innings,” Olmstead said. “He gave up no hits and no runs. He looked very good. Unhittable.”

Another former Redskin, Braxton Hyde, also pitched three innings and only allowed one run.

“Braxton fielded extremely well,” Olmstead said. “He threw well.”

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Jack Hagan from UTA pitched the eighth and Jack Chester form Pepperdine tossed the ninth.

Olmstead coached Evans and Hyde in high school, and the Redskins also had Elijah McCarter on the Bee Jay roster, making this one of the most Liberal players on a Bee Jay team in modern history.

“It’s a lot of fun for me,” Olmstead said of coaching his former players. “It’s definitely good on attendance. We are still waiting on some position guys, but Elijah is competing. For me it’s fun being able to coach these guys, especially (Hyde) and (McCarter) after not getting to play last spring. You don’t see a lot of Liberal kids playing for the Bee Jays. It says a lot for our high school program and where it is headed. I never though (Evans) would come back, pitching at Little Rock. I’ve coached him since he was 13. This is the last hurrah for him. It’s been a blast.”

Evans will have a limited tenure with the team of about six starts. But Olmstead already had 12 arms on the roster with four more coming, and the only reason two of those pitchers didn’t see the mound in the first two games was because they are slated to be the starters for the next two games.

Olmstead isn’t only coaching former players, but he is also the father of a baseball player and athlete, and he is balancing his role as Bee Jay coach with his role as dad. 

“He’s got practice,” Olmstead said of his son, Ethan. “I’m just a dad for that. I’ll get him there. I’m  helping coach (Jason) Dunlap with summer weights, and Ethan is also throwing the football around. My wife has been great. It’s tough, but there is a lot of value for him being around what I am doing. It won’t last forever. At some point I’ll just be Dad.”

Olmstead is also working with a new assistant who was an opposing coach during the regular season in high school. Tanner Rindels coaches the Hugoton Eagles, a team the Redskins have faced in the past.

“We are really good friends,” Olmstead said. “We coached in the old Cal Ripken League together. I do have bragging rights. We’ve played four times and we are 4-0. But he’s been to state twice in two years. He is a blessing. He coaches his son’s 10U games, so we have to work with him, but the Bee Jay board works with us. That’s the culture we have. Our board is tremendous.”

While many teams sat out the 2020 season, the Bee Jays played, and Olmstead thought that gave his team a head start since so many players opted to return for 2021.

“We didn’t just start over,” he said. “We have seven or eight returners. Aidan Shepardson will be coming from Central Michigan. The chemistry and already set. That is huge for coaching staff. Playing last summer was good. They never had returners like this. I’m proud that kids want to come back. Liberal is a special place to play.”

Shepardson will be a rare third-year Bee Jay, and Olmstead said the relationships developed with the players and the community is a key difference for the program.

“Without the host parents they wouldn’t want to come back,” Olmstead said. “It’s a group effort. The older guys talk about the NBC experience. We will have that chat with them as well. We need to get into it. Playing the first week in Hutchinson last year, we had a blast. The environment was great. Then being able to pay in the new stadium this year and with only 16 teams qualifying, we will have to play well.”

And the new structure of the league with two divisions, as opposed to the Jayhawk League schedule, Olmstead said there is a different challenge.

“When we were in Jayhawk League, we played series” he said. “Now it’s mix and match. We would roll up against everybody’s No. 1, 2, 3 pitchers. From a  talent perspective, I like our guys. They are quality kids and good character. If our pitchers pitch this way, we are in good shape, and we have four more guys coming in this weekend. We’re working on one or two more for July.”

Olmstead also said the breakdown on the team also keeps the players more engaged than loading a roster and leaving players without playing time.

“We don’t over-recruit as far as position players go, he said. “We are shorthanded on purpose. We don’t have a lot of backups. We rotate players, and that keeps them happy. As far as pitching, two years ago when we won the league, we only had 10 arms. When we could throw a position guy we would. Recruiting has been good to us. People want to send guys here. We got an outfielder today.  We have 12 pitchers here, and Matthew Davis and Eric Turner start next two nights.”

That’s a far cry from two seasons ago when SCCC assistant King took the mound.

“I would take him back as another assistant in a heartbeat,” Olmstead said. “But he is so busy working the field and recruiting for Seward.”

And players experienced firsthand the support from the community on opening night with a decent crowd.

“We had some wide-eyed kids on opening night,” Olmstead said. “Their colleges didn’t draw as many. We can’t expect that all the time.”

Liberal travels to Wichita today to face the Kansas Curve and Wednesday will face the Dirtbag Baseball Club at 2 p.m.

The Bee Jays return to Brent Gould Field at 7 p.m. Friday to open a three-game series with the Wichita Moos.

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