It’s a dream many Junction City children envision — stepping to the
plate in Rathert Stadium with cheering fans galore in the stands.
Though they’ve graduated high school, that dream hasn’t stopped for
Tim Bell and Trae McDaniel. Both former Junction City High School
athletes, they still step to the plate —and on the field — to the
applause and cheers of hundreds of Junction City fans as member of the
Junction City Brigade.
“Being able to come back from college and play in front of my home
crowd like I’ve watched many kids do before me, it’s like a dream come
true,” McDaniel said.
For both players, playing in Rathert Stadium, is nothing new. They
spent their entire high school career donning the blue and white of
the Junction City Blue Jays as members of the varsity baseball team.
That makes the familiarity — of both the area and the fans — a
definite benefit for the players.
“It’s just being able to play in front of people you’ve been playing
in front of for 10-plus years and your family,” Bell said. “You know
you have a lot of support behind you.”
There’s much that’s changed with the two players from their high
school to college careers. Besides having the experience of playing
college baseball (McDaniel is an outfielder at Cloud County, and Bell
is an infielder at Barton County), both have the experience of playing
for the Brigade last year. This provides them with the wisdom and
comfort necessary for a productive 2018 season.
“I feel a lot more confident in my skill level and feel a lot better
about the game,” Bell said. “After a whole year of junior college
baseball, I’m just honing my skills every day.”
McDaniel, meanwhile, knows the familiarity of the league provides
numerous benefits as well.
“You come back here, having seen a lot of these teams last year, and
you feel a lot more confident with yourself,” he said. “You don’t
press as much, you just let the game come to you.”
The experience also rubs off on their teammates. As Junction City
natives and returning Brigade players, head coach Derek Francis knows
they can be positive role models for some of the newer players on the
team — ones who may not be as familiar with Junction City.
“They know the town as good as anybody,” he said. “They’re huge to
have, they bring a little spark.”
That “spark” has been evident in the past few games. On Monday, Bell’s
hitting and baserunning was key as the Brigade scored an important
insurance run in Junction City’s 4-2 victory over Liberty, and
McDaniel uncorked a strong throw to nail a runner at the plate to end
a threat in the fourth inning.
Then, Tuesday, McDaniel had three hits and four RBI, and Bell had
three walks, as the Brigade earned a 13-5 victory.
And when the local guys are hitting, it rubs off on the crowd.
“The crowd definitely gets into it a little bit more when those guys
are hitting,” Francis said.
Bell still has strong memories of last year’s Cowdin Cup run. Having
that experience — and being so close to winning the Mid-Plains League
championship —allows him something to strive for in the 2018 season.
“It’s just getting something to work on this summer,” Bell said.
McDaniel, though, still reflects on his time as a member of the JCHS
Blue Jays. As a senior, he was able to play on the varsity squad with
his younger brother, Thane, who was a freshman and “was our ace on the
mound for varsity.”
“Me and my brother are best friends,” McDaniel said. “That was really
great to be able to share that year with him.”
ANd what about Thane, who will be a senior this coming year? Will he
be part of the next generation of BLue Jay alumni to suit up for the
“He said it’s an option,” Trae said.