All three of the Junction City Brigade’s coaches are no strangers to Rathert Stadium.
Just not in the roles they are currently in.
Derek Francis’s three assistants — Butch Rea, Jeremy Thomas and Cole Brecheisen — have all played in the Mid-Plains League during their careers, with the latter two suiting up for the Brigade at one point or another.
But now, it’s a completely different experience for the three, working to guide the next generation of players along instead of jumping onto the field.
“It’ll be a little different from the past, getting used to just standing there and not being able to participate,” Brecheisen says.
Thomas spent this past spring on the Texas Southern coaching staff after completing his playing career. He admits it was difficult making the switch from a player to a coach, especially when game time comes around.
“I would give anything to get five swings in (batting practice), and do what you guys (the players) are doing, go out and play catch every day,” he recalls. “But it’s time to put on the flats, grab a stopwatch, and start coaching.”
Thomas, a Junction City native, also knows that getting into coaching at this time is a great learning opportunity for him — and the players.
“Baseball is a game that is always changing, so you’re kind of with the times as far as how much this game has been changing,” he says. “You don’t really have this down period where the game has changed, and then you come back and you have to relearn everything.”
For Rea, who spent time as an graduate assistant at Northeast State University in Oklahoma, there was an adjustment period, but he has embraced the learning curve.
“It was really weird at first changing from a player so quickly into a coach,” he says. “But I learned a lot. I’m looking forward to learning a lot more throughout the summer, and having a higher role at Northeastern.”
Brecheisen, too, knows it will be a learning experience. After all, Thursday was his first game as a member of the Brigade that he didn’t trot out onto the field with his teammates. But his mind will still be thinking.
“You’re just looking at it on the sideline instead of actually being out there and thinking quick,” he says. “You’re thinking more in-depth of everything that’s going on.”
The Mid-Plains League Experience
Francis has said the 2018 Brigade squad is young — some players, “they’ve never played summer ball at the collegiate level.” Therefore, one of the roles of the coaching staff is to help the players feel comfortable.
But all three assistants say another key component is for the players to have fun.
“All the places you go to, it’s fun to play in,” Rea says.
“These guys have a great gift here in Rathert Stadium,” Thomas adds. “It’s a great place to play; I missed being here. I want them to be able to respect this place and love this place as much as I do.”
All three have varying memories of playing in Junction City. Brecheisen’s is probably the most recognizable for fans — the 2014 Cowdin Cup.
“That was the first year of the Codwin Cup, and we were the first ones to win it,” he says.
Thomas was also a member of the 2014 squad, and remembers he “got one at-bat on the year, and got a hit.” But he also remembers the next year, 2015, when he played with the Rossville Rattlers. His Rattlers squad knocked Junction City out of the playoffs that year en route to the 2015 Cowdin Cup Championship.
“I had a heck of game, we advanced to the championship, winning the
championship the next day,” he says.
Rea played two years with the Topeka Golden Giants — after his freshman and junior years. He remembers coming to Rathert Stadium often and soaking in the “Rathert Experience.”
“It was always fun just coming here and playing,” he recalls. “The crowd just energizes you, whether you’re on the short end of the stick or winning.”
Adjusting to managing
Francis, meanwhile, is adjusting to a new role as well. He’s spent two summers and two seasons as an assistant coach, but the 2018 season will be his first experience as a manager at any level. With that comes even more responsibility.
“When you’re the one making the decisions, stuff becomes a little more difficult,” he says.
And though there may be times, he admits, where he might mess up, it’s important to learn and grow from those experiences.
“We’re all going to learn when we’re here,” he says. “It’s going to be a good time.”