The Junction City Brigade named Derek Francis, a coach from Emporia State and a Manhattan native, as its next head coach in a ceremony Thursday night in Junction City.
Francis will replace former coach Seth Wheeler, who was a part of the program for five years, and was part of two Cowdin Cup Championship-winning teams.
Francis noted that Wheeler, who coaches with Francis at Emporia State, played a big role in helping him land the head coaching job.
"(Wheeler) really pushed it. He put in a good word for me last summer with Cecil (Aska, the Brigade's general manager). I had the opportunity to come back for game two of the Cowdin Cup Championship (a 7-5 Brigade victory over the Topeka Golden Giants July 21), which was in Junction City," Fisher said. "I sat down and talked with Cecil a little bit, and that got the ball rolling."
Wheeler talked about how he convinced Francis to apply for the coaching job.
"During the last two summers, I tried to get him to be the assistant (coach). He's a local kid, and I knew that he needed the experience. I thought he would be a really good fit. When I knew that this was going to be my last summer, he was excited about coming here. He was on the roster for like four years in a row. He never showed up, but he was always on the roster," Wheeler said.
Wheeler gave some of his impressions of Francis.
"He's an extremely intelligent baseball guy. He knows more about the swing than just about anyone that I know. He understands baseball situations better than anyone I know. For a baseball mind, he's as good as it gets. This is going to be his third summer coaching summer ball. He's very aware of the ins-and-outs of summer ball and what it takes to be successful," Wheeler said.
Wheeler noted that Francis has previously coached summer baseball in Green Bay, Wisc., as well as in Liberal.
Francis said that he has big shoes to fill in replacing Wheeler, who guided the Brigade to a 21-15 record last summer.
"There's big shoes to fill for sure. He's been a part of two championships — 2014 and 2016. We see things the same way. We talk every day about baseball. We have the same vision on things. I'm going to take a lot of stuff I've learned from him and use that. It's proven to be successful. He's helped me out a lot," Francis said.
Francis, a Manhattan native, talked about how special it will be for him to coach close to home.
"It's going to be awesome. The opportunity to come back close to home and be the head coach was something I always wanted to do. It's very, very special to me. I'm going to live in my parents' basement, so I'm kind of barging in on them. I didn't give them the option to say no. It's great to be back in this community," Francis said.
Francis talked about his coaching style.
"We want to play a good brand of baseball. We want to play fast. I want to have dirtbags (players) this summer that like to get after it and play hard and take an extra 90 feet. We're going to try to put runs on the board. We're going to play a high tempo game. We don't want to be in the slow lane. We want to be in the left lane running and trying to take bases," Francis said.
Francis serves as a batting coach at Emporia State. Wheeler serves as the pitching coach. Francis talked about the potential differences in coaching that come from specializing in different sides of the ball.
"For sure. I've mainly worked with hitters down at Emporia State. I don't work much with pitchers. That's (Wheeler's) job. Being the head coach, you've got to kind of know both," Francis said. "You have to have an idea of how to manage a pitching staff. You need to know when you need to go to the bullpen or keep a guy on the mound. That's something he's really taught me. It's something that I've learned and hopefully it's going to help me out next summer."
Wheeler doesn't think there will be much of a change in philosophy with Francis' first year.
"The last two years, we were probably more offensive than we were defensive. I don't know how much that will really change. I think that kind of is the way summer ball is. You hope to get enough arms, but you kind of make your money offensively," Wheeler said.
Francis gave an update on his recruitment period.
"(Recruiting) is going good. I'm just about done with position players. I'm still looking for a guy or two still. We need some arms, and different things. As far as pitching goes for the summer, you kind of have to wait to see who's going to pitch a lot in the spring," Francis said. "That's something I've been running into a little bit. I feel good about where I am now, as far as position-wise. I think there's a lot of talented kids that are going to be here in Junction."
Francis noted that he has recruited some Junction City players from last summer's team to come back for the 2018 season.
"We have (former freshman outfielder) Trae McDaniel back for sure. That is it currently. I'm still talking with (former freshman shortstop) Charlie (Peyla) to see if he'll come back. We'll have to wait on that. I know he kind of wants to get away and do his own thing. (Former freshman infielder) Tim Bell, I'm not sure what he's doing. I think he wants to get away and do something different too. I'm going after local kids first. The more local kids, the more people you'll have in the stands," Francis said.
Francis noted that he hasn't signed any Junction City High School baseball seniors to play next summer.
"I haven't heard anything about any seniors that are wanting to play in a collegiate summer league. That's something that I'll deal with as it comes up," Francis said.
Francis talked about some of his goals for his first summer.
"I just want to get kids in here that play hard and play a good brand of baseball. We want to win as much as we can. That's not everything. If I get kids in here and hopefully have just a little bit of an impact on them as a person as much as I do as a baseball player, that's going to be a win for me," Francis said.