Tribune Team Spotlight: Spring Lake Baseball

Duncan MacLean • May 25, 2018 at 12:03 AM

SPRING LAKE — Days on the diamond serve as fond memories for plenty of aging former athletes. Kicking up dirt in the base paths and letting it rip at batting practice is often accompanied with classic soundtracks over the loudspeakers, alongside fierce teammates and a constant flow of banter.

There is a point, however, when all this good American fun can turn sour. When jawing at your teammates turns into nasty exchanges and fellow fielders become more foe than friend.

Such was the case for the 2017 Spring Lake baseball team, who watched a healthy crop of talent spiral to a 3-15 record through the regular season, culminating in a swift playoff exit.

"Last season was rough. It wasn't an up-and-down season; it was just down," said Spring Lake baseball coach Jeff Lindsey. "I'm not going to say it wasn't fun coming to the park, but all the losing was tough on the team. Attitudes were bad. It was rough."

Things nearly got off to the same start this year, as the Lakers struggled through their early-season schedule. But, behind the scenes, things had turned around, and it didn't take long for the results to show on the field.

As the dust from the conference season settles, Spring Lake sits in striking distance in the race for the O-K Blue Conference Championship, behind fierce leadership by a group of six seniors not ready to call it quits on their spring pastime of choice.

"I give all the credit to these seniors," Lindsey said. "They have earned so much after what happened to us last year. It was rough, and they turned it all around.

"They came to me before the season and said, ‘Coach, we want to change the attitude,' and you can see it on the field."

From gameday dress codes to in-practice demeanor, David Rumptz, T.J. Cunningham, C.J. Saxe, Zack Bennink, Griffin Lorimer and Rylan Peets took it upon themselves to set a standard for the team they led.

"We basically wanted to change the whole attitude of the team," Rumptz said. "Last year, we would come to practices and not go hard. This year, we really have been going hard in practice and making sure we get quality work in."

"The senior class last year was a good class, but they never really stepped up and took charge or lead the team by example," Peets said. "We took that upon ourselves. We knew if we are on and doing what we are supposed to than the team will feed off that energy and we would start winning."

Communication was an integral part of the cultural overhaul.

"We started listening to each other better. Before, if you told a guy something he was doing wrong or gave a tip, it was always negative and we would just get angry with each other," Cunningham said. "Now, we're listening to the coaches and asking questions. We're doing more than just showing up."

The attitude change set in quickly, as a more focused and driven team kicked off the season with big goals. But, it wasn't a success overnight. Something was missing.

"The start of the season was rough until they found their identity," Lindsey said. "Early on in the year, we dropped three wins we could have had. You could see the pressure weighing on them. So, we decided to relax and make sure we were still doing what we had to do while having a good time.

"That helped. They are always having fun and letting that happen takes the pressure off."

Accountability paired with enthusiasm is a powerful combination, and these Lakers found they had a lot of both to give.

"Last year, we would make fun of each other just for the sake of it," Bennink said. "Now, we save it for when people mess up."

"We wanted the team to be more serious, but we had to make sure we were still having fun," Saxe said. "We never really took practice seriously before, it was just about having fun. Now, we know that the good times are when we are on a roll and hitting well and winning."

What started in practice translated into competition. As the wins started coming, confidence improved, creating more success.

"Last year, if we got down 4-1, that was the game," Peets said. "We didn't think we had the ability to come back from that. Now, we have more energy in games and we never see ourselves as out of it.

"We're hitting the ball and have more than four wins to show for it. The energy is up and it is taking us places."

Those places are hopeful stops along an extended playoff run as the district tournament looms.

"I think if we hit well, we can play with anybody. We can beat anybody," Lorimer said. "We just have to keep our energy up and stay focused."

"We're thinking at least a district championship," Peets added. "But, we are taking it one game at a time. We have Kenowa Hills in the opening round and they are a tough team. We will take them on first and see if we can make it out and give it a run."

"They have done everything right," Lindsey said. "They deserve all this. They don't ever give up, on each other, especially. That is why I'm so excited right now because it was rough and they turned it around. They have done a great job."

The Lakers have one final challenge between them and the postseason, a rivalry doubleheader at Grand Haven today with Game 1 kicking off at 4 p.m. Last year's edition ended with an extra-inning walk-off, complete with a play at home plate.

With this new-and-improved Spring Lake attitude and a fearsome Buccaneer roster to face, entertainment is guaranteed.

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