By Jeff Holt
Published February 23, 2023 in The Burg
When February and March rolls around, the die-hard baseball fans are ready to hear that crack of the bat and dig into those nachos (caked in cheese) at the ballpark. The Chicago Cub and St. Louis Cardinal fans are the most vocal. Fans of the Chicago White Sox, meanwhile, are just quietly optimistic.
Galesburg native Jeremy Kleine is officially returning to coach Post 285 and he took some time to catch everyone up with their off-season progress.
But one last thing ... don't forget about the Post 285 fundraiser on Friday night at the Knights of Columbus. The cost is $10 at the door and they have some standup comedy ready to take the stage.
Q: What do you feel that you learned from that first year of coaching the Galesburg Legion baseball team?
KLEINE: I’ve always known Galesburg to be a baseball town, having seen and played with so many really good players over the years.
But as I’ve gotten older, I now realize how much of an impact the community and followers of Post #285 Legion Baseball have had, and continue to have, on its existence.
Not only the most knowledgeable baseball fans, but they are also huge financial supporters of the program.
The way the community, individuals and businesses, stepped up with their support to help get the program going again was tremendous.
There are so many people that want to be a part of helping provide quality programs for the young people of our community, it was a true blessing to see.
Q: You and your coaching staff return, which includes Pat Hise, John Simkins, and Abingdon's Gary Cameron. Can you talk a bit about what each one brought to the team last year and how they contributed?
KLEINE: Coach Cameron did not help last summer but he is on the coaching staff this summer. Gary will bring a knowledge of the area players since he has been a long time coach in Abingdon. Gary also played for Coach Mike Sturgeon and I know he learned how to be hard-nosed and compete from Coach Sturgeon. Gary’s primary focus with #285 will be hitting.
Coach Hise and Coach Simkins were a God-send. They are both extremely knowledgeable about the game from hitting, pitching, and playing various positions.
But most of all they are the type of people that you would want your young people to be around, they make you a better person just being around them.
Coach Hise was a D-1 player at Western Illinois as a pitcher and position player. He focuses a lot on the mental game and communicates it in a way that players can use right away.
Coach Simkins is our pitching coach, but also played the outfield in his Legion and College days. He likes our pitchers to work ahead in the count and challenges them to be able to throw multiple pitches for strikes and let the defense do their jobs behind you.
We all played for different, but similar coaches, during our playing days and so we bring a variety of solid approaches to playing the game.
We promote respect for the game, umpires, the other team, playing hard and having fun.
We heard from several of the players on last summer’s team that it was the most fun they ever had playing baseball.
Q: Are there any other coaches on your staff that you'd like to mention?
KLEINE: We also had Kadin Spencer and Logan Sykes, two college players that didn’t get the opportunity to play Post #285 Legion Baseball due to us not having a team the past handful of years. They were more than willing to do whatever it took to help the squad get ready for games and practices, playing catch, hitting fungoes, prepping the field, all the things that go unnoticed.
Q: What are you hoping to do with your schedule this year?
KLEINE: The schedule will be very similar to last year. We will play approximately 30-32 regular season games and then the Division and State Tournament, so an additional 5-10 games.
We currently have games scheduled with Rock Island, Moline, Oneida, Orion, Milan, East Moline, Lincoln and two mid-summer tournaments.
Moline’s annual Leo Bruner tournament close to the 4th of July and Peoria Legion’s River City Showdown were we will see a few teams we don’t play regularly.
Q: Can you talk about one play or game from last year that seemed to really signify your team?
KLEINE: Rock Island had won the State Tournament in 2021 and had most of their players returning, Moline had a lot of players from their Western Big 6 title team, so we knew we were going to face good teams last summer.
Two games standout, our first home game of the season against Moline which we won 9-1 behind a great pitching effort by Parker Stoneking and banging out 12 hits against one of their better pitchers.
The second was a 7-6 victory at Rock Island where we didn’t have our full roster, in fact, we only had 11 players that game. We were down 5-1 after two innings and it would have been easy to give up. We continued to battle and slowly chipped away at their lead. They had one of their top pitchers cruising along until we made it a 5-4 score after 6 innings. To start the 7th inning, Tristan Legate drew a walk after a tough at-bat, Kannon Kleine singled, and then Payton Hankins fouled off a couple of pitches with a 3-2 count. He then crushed the next pitch over the right center field fence to put us up 7-5. Kyle Shaw threw a nice game after a tough first inning and James Kisler shut Rocky down over the last 2 innings to seal the comeback victory.
We knew we were good enough to compete with anybody in the state at that point.
Q: What type of team do you feel like you'll have this year?
KLEINE: The 2023 team will be much different than the 2022 team. We won’t have the depth of pitching we had last year. We are going to have to rely on getting some pitching from just about every player on the roster and we will have to play with more speed, bunting for base hits and stealing bases. I believe we have a roster full of very competitive players that will have a chip on their shoulders with something to prove.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KLEINE: The biggest news of the upcoming season is that we are going to be hosting the American Legion State Tournament, starting July 25th thru 30th. It is a double elimination tournament and there will be 6 quality teams that all play good baseball. We are looking forward to the Galesburg community being great hosts and showing up to support Post #285 Baseball.
The host team is responsible for lodging and meals for the teams so there is a significant cost to hosting. We have already had some people and businesses donate to this cause and others have reached out with how they can help. It will be a total community effort to make this State Tournament top notch and I have no doubt we will. Kyle Spencer and Laurie Sykes have already put in numerous hours preparing for this, once-in-a-players lifetime opportunity. We are looking forward to it.