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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Martinez: Fort Vancouver baseball team creates excitement with midnight practice

High school sports

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: February 28, 2022, 8:56pm
4 Photos
The Fort Vancouver baseball team runs through drills during their midnight practice on Feb.
The Fort Vancouver baseball team runs through drills during their midnight practice on Feb. 28, 2022 (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Taking over a high school baseball program in the middle of a pandemic is challenging enough.

But doing that while trying to build a program at Fort Vancouver High School offers a particular challenge.

That’s why coach Brian Hansen knew he had no time to waste.

So when the clock struck midnight to usher in Feb. 28 — the first day of spring prep practices in Washington — Hansen had his Trappers in the Fort gym for a midnight practice.

“Basically I thought ‘How do you create excitement in something nobody’s excited about?’” Hansen said.

The answer was to do something completely different.

Midnight practices are a concept born out of college basketball. But the idea has been adopted for the high school ranks usually for fall sports like football or volleyball, when practices begin in August before the school year has started.

But to do it at the end of February with the start of the school day just a few hours away is not something many coaches are willing to do.

“I’m a teacher; I get it,” Hansen said. “Kids got to get up for school in the morning. I have to get up for school in the morning. And I know that a lot of kids might still be up late on school nights playing video games or whatever, but they’re not staying up because of me. That’s different.”

It caused Hansen to have second thoughts about his initial plans to hold a midnight practice, even as late as last Thursday.

“I thought about calling it off,” he said. “But then our parents wouldn’t let me. We had a parent meeting last week, and they were all in on the idea.”

As it turns out, so were his players. About 18 players showed up around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night even though practice could not officially begin until 12:01 a.m.

All players were wearing “Midnight Madness 2022” T-shirts the team had made up for the occasion.

“This is exciting,” Fort senior Dylan Brooks-Minck said. “It’s kind of feels like a pep rally for the baseball team.”

If creating excitement was the goal, it appears to have worked. Hansen said he already has 22 players signed up to play this spring, with another seven who are interested in playing.

“And I think most of the kids who are interested are interested because of this event,” Hansen said.

Thirteen of the players on the roster are freshmen, and all but three of them are first-time baseball players. Hansen had to lean on his more experienced player to help their new teammates.

“It’s kind of hard having to help the guys who haven’t played before,” senior Esteban Johnson said. “But it’s also fun. I think helping them is helping me.”

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Hansen hopes to eventually get 25 players out for the program this spring, which would allow the Trappers to field a junior varsity team for the first time in several years.

Hansen, a former Skyview assistant, took over the Fort program in the fall of 2020, and he led the Trappers through an abbreviated season last spring.

“We played games last spring with guys wearing different uniforms,” Hansen said. “The previous coach handed out uniforms and then right before the season was supposed to start (in 2020), then everything got shut down because of COVID. We never saw some of those uniforms after that.”

Fort received a $5,000 grant from the Seattle Mariners last year, which allowed Hansen buy new uniforms for the Trappers, as well as ensuring every player had a glove and baseball pants for practice.

The Trappers didn’t need much equipment for Monday morning’s first practice. Hansen led the team through a 45-minute workout of shadow ball or ghost ball in which all the drills are performed with an imaginary baseball.

And while the baseball wasn’t real, the excitement was.

“It has been three years since we had a normal baseball season,” Brooks-Minck said. “And this was a great way to get fired up about playing baseball again. … Yeah, we’ll probably be tired in the morning, but it’s worth it to have an event that we’ll remember the rest of our lives.”