Few people are as excited right now as Trent Grams.
He enters his third season as the Brainerd Warriors head coach, but it’s only his second year working with athletes during the spring season.
And while his team has no players returning from 2019, the unknown of where players will fit in seems to be adding to Grams’ excitement.
“It’s awesome right now,” Grams said. “We’re happy to be back. We’re excited and fired up. The kids are ready to go. There are not enough positive adjectives to describe it for sure.”
The Warriors were able to play about 20 games during the summer through the VFW season. Grams helped coach this year’s juniors and sophomores. He wasn’t able to work with this year’s seniors as American Legion baseball didn’t have a season.
“We had about 20 kids that were able to come out and play and we were able to get in 10 doubleheaders,” Grams said. “That little bit of experience, it wasn’t nearly as big as a regular schedule would have been, but just those small amounts of games helped those kids and our program.”
Grams said the focus in the early part of the season is paying attention to details and learning things correctly the first time. He said every position will have a positive, open competition. He hasn’t named any starters as he’s looking at everyone to fill their role.
“Everyone is on an even playing surface right now and nobody has any advantages over anyone else,” Grams said. “We’re really preaching that part of it and we’re getting good results from it, too.”
For the first time in many years, the Warriors were able to practice outside on Day One of the season. Grams praised the lower site crew for preparing the facilities for the start of the season.
Another luxury is the amount of pitching Brainerd has. Grams said he’s got about 11 arms to work with.
Pitching prospects include Christian Augustine, Harold Carlson, Adam Jensen, Charles Johnson, Matthew Karlson, Theo Lund, Conrad Provost, Jack Schaefer, Kouper Seidl, Carter Springer and Andrew Zuk.
“All of those guys in the junior and senior class will be competing for innings and starting spots and competing for relief depth,” Grams said. “That part we’re happy with. We don’t have any pitching experience, but we also believe a lot of the teams we’re playing don’t have a lot of varsity pitching experience either. It’s just fun to watch them compete and get their bullpens in. That’s what makes our job pretty exciting, too. We’re evaluating these guys as we’ve never met them before.”
The Warriors will have a couple of left-handed pitchers, but Grams said the rotation is about 85% right-handed.
Grams is very excited about his depth in the infield. He said there are two to three kids at each spot fighting for playing time and starting roles.
Along with most of the pitchers, those players include William Carlson, Cayden Kleffman, Noah Rushmeyer and Nash Slettom.
“We have 27 kids that are juniors and seniors and they’re all competing for playing time and the infield, especially, has a lot of depth at each position,” Grams said. “We’re in a situation right now that if a potential starter is struggling we can rely on their backups and we hope to not miss a beat that way.”
Grams is also excited about the team speed in the outfield. Again, it’s a spot with depth and versatility. Those looking for the three outfield spots include Riley DeRosier, Jackson Dwyer, Jonas Ewald, Paris Hampton, Austin Harbo, Alexander Helmin, Payton Johnson, Reice Pikula, Jackson Scheinost and Nathan Staehling.
“We have 11 outfielders competing for three sports and kind of with the way speed works and the way it helps in the outfield we’re excited about that part of it,” Grams said “We’re also excited about the strength of the arms in the outfield, too. That combination of speed and arm strength is very exciting.”
There are three catchers getting bullpen work early in the season. DeRosier is one along with Helmin and sophomore Jonathon Benson.
“We like the fact that whoever doesn’t get the starting catching position that player is going to help us someplace else like the infield or outfield. But right now we are three deep right there.”
During Grams’ rookie season as head Warrior coach, Brainerd finished 9-5 in the Central Lakes Conference and 13-9 overall. The final two losses came in the Section 8-4A tournament; a 5-1 loss to Moorhead followed by a 5-4 loss to Elk River.
But because no players return with varsity experience, Grams hopes to prepare his players early for the varsity game.
“We’re going to focus on getting them ready for varsity game experience and what it’s going to be like,” Grams said. “The competition that they’re going to see is not like any competition they’ve seen before just because of the layoff and the summer that all schools had.
“That part falls on us. We’re just going to maybe goose it up a little bit in batting practice and maybe through a few more curveballs during batting practice, too, just to get them ready for the varsity game experience that none of these guys have ever dealt with before. That’s a challenge, but we’re excited and we’re ready for it.”
There are 26 players out for the Warriors and Grams said it’s a good number when varsity experience is low.
“It really challenges these players to compete hard against their teammates and stay positive with it,” Grams said. “It really challenges us as starters to find nine starters in 10 days to get ready for a very good Rocori team. That’s the fun part, too. The challenges are the exciting part. It’s also what brings the energy to every practice.”
Along with the Central Lakes Conference schedule, Brainerd will play a sort of doubleheader April 24 when they face both Rochester Century and Anoka at Anoka. Brainerd also added Rogers, Duluth East and Buffalo to its non-conference schedule.
The Warriors will play three doubleheaders, with two of those at home.
“I think we put together a good 4A non-conference schedule,” Grams said. “All of our non-conference games are against 4A schools, which really gets us prepared for section playoffs. Our conference is very strong in my opinion. I really think that the schedule we have, and all of the COVID-19 restrictions that will allow us to play a full schedule, are really going to help. We’re excited about it.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Head coach: Trent Grams, 3rd year
2019 record: CLC 9-5; overall 13-9
Returning letterwinners: none
Assistant coaches: Dylan Knipple (varsity assistant), Derek Owen (sophomore), Mike Bialka (sophomore), Kyle Crocker (freshmen), Eric Jobe (freshmen)
Volunteer coaches: Keith Peterson, Wyatt Sanford
Seniors: Christian Augustine (inf/p), William Carlson (inf), Harold Carlson (inf/p), Paris Hampton (of), Austin Harbo (of), Charles Johnson (inf/p), Conrad Provost (of/p), Andrew Zuk (inf/p)
Juniors: Riley DeRosier (c/of), Jackson Dwyer (of), Jonas Ewald (of), Alexander Helmin (of/c), Adam Jensen (inf/p), Payton Johnston (of), Matthew Karlson (inf), Riece Pikula (of), Theo Lund (inf/p), Noah Rushmeyer (inf), Jack Schafer (inf/p), Jackson Scheinost (of), Kouper Seidl (of/p), Nash Slettom (inf), Nathaniel Staehling (of)
Sophomore: Jonathan Benson (catcher)
April 13, hosts Rocori 5 p.m.
April 15, at St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
April 20, at Bemidji 4:30 p.m.
April 24, vs. Rochester Century at Anoka 1:30 p.m.
April 24, at Anoka 4 p.m.
April 27, hosts Alexandria (2) 4 p.m.
April 29, hosts St. Cloud Tech 5 p.m.
May 4, at Sauk Rapids (2) 4:30 p.m.
May 6, at Rocori 5 p.m.
May 7, at Rogers 4:30 p.m.
May 11, hosts Sartell (2) 4 p.m.
May 13, hosts Willmar 5 p.m.
May 14, hosts Duluth East 5 p.m.
May 18, at Fergus Falls 5 p.m.
May 20, hosts St. Cloud Apollo 5 p.m.
May 25, at Buffalo 4:30 p.m.
May 28, at St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.
June 2, Section 8-4A opening round