In late May, the Junction City Brigade convened for the first time at Rathert Field. A lot entered Junction City from different backgrounds and other parts of the country, but a lot of them had similar goals for the summer.
One goal was to defend the Cowdin Cup championship, even though the majority of the players weren’t with the Brigade the previous season. A second goal was to improve as a baseball player, leaving in July better than they came in May. Head coach Derek Francis believes that this was mission accomplished.
“We came in with a group a couple months ago that was extremely talented and we got after it every day,” Francis said. “At just about every home game, we were out here early doing extra work and trying to really develop players and send them back to their schools as a better players and maybe as a better person. I think we did just that. Like I said, we’re extremely talented, and we just wanted to see if we can make them a little bit better. And we ended up with the championship and I think we ended up with better players after two months.”
The Brigade sealed the championship on Saturday night in Belton, Missouri, with a 5-2 victory in game 2 against the Midwest A’s after Jack Christian had a complete game, 10-strikeout performance. Carson Sader ended the season continuing to swing his hot bat by going yard in the first inning. This is a Brigade team that played great baseball from opening night. They never suffered two losses in a row for the duration of the season. Francis credits everyone involved, from the general manager Cecil Aska all the way to the Junction City fans for the success.
“Playing here is totally different than going to the other places, just from the setup and everything that goes into it,” Francis said. “You get guys that come in and buy into what we’re trying to do. Cecil (Aska) set a vision of winning and going back-to-back. So we got guys to believe in that, and we’re trying to make them better baseball players along the way. Once you get a good group of guys who enjoy being around each other and buys into what you’re trying to do, you have a chance to be successful.”
Not only are these summers crucial for development as a player, but Francis uses the summers as a chance to grow himself as a coach. Recruiting is a big aspect of it, something he is familiar with in his time as a coach for Emporia State. He started doing recruiting for the Brigade as well, where it helps him develop vital skills for a coach.
“It helps me build relationships and different things,” Francis said. “Then you get guys in here that maybe you haven’t seen. There’s a lot of guys that I just kind of go based off word of mouth or what they’ve done on paper and different things. You get in here and try to learn different players and stuff. I think the more players you are around helps make you become better as a coach and learn different ways to do things. You get guys from all over the Midwest in different states and stuff. There’s a ton of different ways to go about the game of baseball, and I’m learning from them as much as they are learning from us. For me, you get to be a head coach and get in-game experience. Managing a pitching staff and working with hitters, you kind of have an eye on everything. It’s a lot of fun to come out coaching.”
Francis said at the celebration at Rathert Field on Sunday night that he was sad the season was over because they were just starting to play their best baseball of the season. Aska talked about how the Junction City Brigade are garnering a better reputation throughout the state because of the people that make it up. Francis hopes the accolades that are building up for the Brigade are something future players will want to be apart of.
“I think it’s kind of something that the next group wants to live up to a little bit, it gets passed down the line,” Francis said. “You want to have as many guys come back as you can because they understand what it takes and different things. But, that doesn’t always happen. So you bring in a new group of guys and you try to get them to mesh as quickly as you can. We have banners hanging up on the outfield wall that says what has been done here in the past. You just hope you get a group that wants to come down here and try to do the same thing.”