One of the most important lessons that Kennewick Outlaws manager Nate Holdren has been trying to impart to his team this season is the inevitability of failure.
Of course, he doesn’t want them to fail. But as someone who has had a successful career in professional baseball and college football, Holdren knows it will happen to anybody in any sport.
And if an athlete isn’t prepared for it, it can ruin him or her.
“The game of baseball is built on failure. I spent the whole summer trying to coach them between the ears to forget about that strikeout, forget about that error, because in baseball you’ve got to move on to the next play,” said Holdren, who played football at the University of Michigan and was also part of the Colorado Rockies organization. “That’s what put us in this position. We had four loser-out games (in the AAA American Legion district and state playoffs) and gave up four runs in those games total. We’re not going to be intimidated by that situation whether at the plate, on the mound or defensively.
“It’s the player that comes back from failure that makes the team.”
By preparing the Outlaws to accept failure as readily as the most basic fundamentals of the game, Holdren has helped them bond and find their potential as a team.
Wednesday, the Outlaws will begin play at the American Legion Northwest Regional Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyo., where they will face off against the Boise Capitals, the Idaho AA state champions, in the second half of an 8:30 a.m. PDT doubleheader.
The double-elimination tournament runs through Sunday.
“You have to win to stay,” Kennewick pitcher Gerald Hein said. “But we’re not going to face much better competition than what we’ve already played.”
The Outlaws headed out Monday, taking a bus to Seattle, where they spent the night and flew to Cheyenne on Tuesday.
It certainly isn’t the first time the Outlaws have gone on a long trip this season, and they’re looking forward to this one.
“We’re fine going on the road. You really get everybody’s personality out. You get to see who everybody is,” said shortstop Dillon Plew, a senior-to-be at Kennewick High School and one of the Outlaws’ most vocal leaders.
“We know all about long bus rides,” infielder Josh Kutzke said of trips to Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane and Reno, Nev. “It’s been a long time since we played at home (Roy Johnson Field). It seems like all of our games were on the road.”
Plew and Kutzke are two of 13 former or current Kennewick players on the Outlaws. It’s a factor that works in their favor on the diamond, even if it means they didn’t get to draw from the same talent pool they had in the past.
Both were part of the former Kennewick Bandits AAA team that changed its name to the Outlaws after Southridge High School coach Tim Sanders and several Suns players broke away from the American Legion program and formed the Southridge Bandits to play an independent schedule this summer.
To compensate for the loss of Southridge players, Holdren picked up Roger Ingram Jr. from Pasco, Matt Rowell of Kamiakin and Prosser standouts Alex Scarver and Wyatt Wentz.
Three players from Columbia Basin College — Larry DeWitt (Kennewick), Colton Plew (Kennewick) and Kooper Blair (Prosser) — filled out the 18-man roster.
“Everybody worked together, and it has been a blessing in disguise,” Holdren said. “We have great team chemistry, and everybody plays, so everyone gets a turn in the dugout. Everybody roots for everybody, and everyone has helped us win.”
Pitching has been one of the team’s true strengths. The Outlaws’ three starting pitchers — Hein (10-2, 1.61 ERA), Colton Plew (9-2, 2.98) and Wentz (6-3, 3.21) — formed the backbone of a staff that allowed one or fewer runs in 17 of Kennewick’s 36 wins and posted a team ERA of 2.82.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can throw strikes to both left- and right-handed people,” Colton said.
Ask the pitching staff, and it might tell you the team’s strength is defense.
“I love when there’s a routine pop fly (with two outs),” said Hein, another Kennewick senior-to-be. “I know I can walk back to the dugout without even seeing them catch it. I don’t cross the line until it’s caught, but I know it will be.”
The offense has been known to pick up the slack when the pitchers falter and the team needs a boost.
The Outlaws hit .311 as a team this season, and six starters — Larry DeWitt (.377), Dillon Plew (.376), Quentin LaFontaine (.367), Blake Loftus (.361), Charlie DeWitt (.340) and Andrew Townsend (.310) — batted .300 or better.
Even the ones who didn’t — Tyler Detloff (20 RBIs), Kutzke (30 RBIs) and Scarver (20 RBIs) — more than made up for it in run production.
“It’s all about baseball,” Ingram said. “We’ve all got the same goal at regionals. All we want is to get to the (Legion) World Series.”
Kennewick Outlaws roster: P Kooper Blair (Prosser HS 2014, CBC), C Charlie DeWitt (Kennewick HS 2016), INF Larry DeWitt (Kennewick HS 2014, CBC), OF Tyler Detloff (Kennewick HS 2016), C Garrett Dixon (Kennewick HS 2016), P Matt Driver (Kennewick HS 2016), P Gerald Hein (Kennewick HS 2016), OF Roger Ingram Jr. (Pasco HS 2015), INF Josh Kutzke (Kennewick HS 2015), INF Quentin LaFontaine (Kennewick HS 2015), OF Blake Loftus (Kennewick HS 2017), SS Dillon Plew (Kennewick HS 2016), P Colton Plew (Kennewick HS 2014, CBC), INF T.J. Rea (Kennewick HS 2016), INF Matt Rowell (Kamiakin HS 2016), OF Alex Scarver (Prosser HS 2015), INF Andrew Townsend (Kennewick HS 2016), P Wyatt Wentz (Prosser HS 2015). Manager: Nate Holdren. Coaches: Mark Driver, Hayden Hilty, Mason Hilty, Brandon Mitchell.