Even with just 13 games played this year, it was a long season for the Prince of Peace baseball team.
The team went 1-12 in the abnormally short campaign, falling in their district opener on Monday against a state-ranked Alburnett team 10-4.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” head coach Skylar Sanford said. “But I’ve honestly enjoyed getting to know these kids. It’s been an honor.”
Sanford hails from western Iowa – Sioux City to be exact. Coming out of college he wasn’t sure where exactly he was going to end up. It was August, and he still didn’t have a job lined up.
Then he got a call from Prince of Peace Catholic School’s principal, Nancy Peart.
“I came into Prince of Peace late last summer,” Sanford recalled. “I didn’t have a job out of college ... Nancy gave me a call and I came down for an interview. When I signed I asked about coaching positions and they offered me the baseball job, so I said OK.”
First, he helped out at Clinton with wrestling this winter. Come June, though, he took over the reigns of the Irish baseball program.
The program has struggled to string together more than a few wins a season for the last few years. Their last double-digit win season came in 2015.
This year, the only win they nabbed was a 13-8 win over Starmont.
But that’s something Sanford wants to work on. He plans on sticking around for a while, and knows there are some things that have to change in order to stack up the Ws on the record.
The first is strength training.
“With the years to come, honestly, this offseason I’d like to get them throwing around once or twice a week with open gyms,” Sanford said, “We have a young team. We’ve been working on getting in the weight room and changing the culture at Prince of Peace towards weight lifting.”
His roster included six freshman and eighth graders this year, along with two sophomores.
“We have a lot of young, scrawny looking dudes right now,” Sanford said. “Hopefully we can take some toothpicks and turn them into biceps. Get some muscles on them ... that will come with age, too.”
Along with working on strength with his young squad, it also gives him plenty of time to see them develop as athletes. Sanford knows this will be a positive in a program overhaul, because he’ll build those imperative player-coach relationships.
It helps that he has all of his kids in gym class at the high school, too.
“Camaraderie,” Sanford said. “This upcoming school year I hope they refer to me as ‘Coach’ instead of just Mr. Sanford. Getting a relationship with these boys is going to be huge and if I can buy in, they’re going to reciprocate it.”
Sanford teaches K-12 P.E. at Prince of Peace. This helps him in his third goal: building numbers. The Irish had a roster of just 12 kids this year, and graduated two seniors on top of that. Those numbers shone bright when pitch counts came into play in the coronavirus shortened season.
“I see them all as they’re coming up,” Sanford said. “Hopefully we can get some more numbers out for baseball.”
With the abnormal summer, it was a lot for a first-year head coach to take on. Sanford had little time to prepare and even less time to get accustomed to the lengthy doubleheaders that the Tri-Rivers Conference schools play each baseball season.
He had some help. Former player Patrick Mulholland was in the dugout helping, as was former Clinton football coach Jon Wauford. Assistant coach Zaac Lubs has kids at the school and played an integral part in Sanford’s acclimation to the team.
“He is an overlooked asset that I have,” Sanford said. “I cannot thank him enough. He has tons of valuable advice and truly knows the game. He brings a lot to the table.”
Although it may not have felt like it when you looked at their overall record, the Irish made improvements from the beginning of June to their postseason exit earlier this week. While they lost 20-3 and 16-0 to Alburnett last Wednesday, they battled with the Pirates and fell in a much closer contest 10-4 to end their season.
Improvement is key, and luckily they have a constant to look forward to in their new head coach.
“Realistically, it’s getting the whole school behind me,” Sanford said. “It’s kind of hard – baseball can be overlooked. Get newer uniforms, nicer things, get the student body to come – it helps the boys get behind it.
“I’m excited going into next year. Having the boys mature another year will be huge, especially now that they know what is expected.”