The Shockers wrestled with the tarp for about 45 minutes at Eck Stadium on Wednesday afternoon. They rolled it, folded it, unrolled and unfolded it. Wichita State baseball volunteer assistant coach Jon Coyne asked if they wanted to let the next group finish.
After a few seconds, infielder Chase Simpson yelled no and they beat the piece of yellow vinyl into submission. Coyne smiled. Throughout the session, he watched to see which players led, who followed and who watched. In the end, they got it done.
It is work week at Eck Stadium. If cleaning, painting, sweeping and counting bats and balls doesn’t help win games, at least the place will look nice. The Shockers divided up into groups to work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. The losing team from the fall scrimmage series used to perform these duties to help field manager Brandon Cutler tidy up. New coach Todd Butler turned it into a team activity to kick off the fall.
“I’m pretty sure there’s something to it,” outfielder Micah Green said. “He hasn’t told us, but I think it’s a team-bonding exercise. We get on the same page. We get a sense of accomplishment, overcoming that tarp.”
Preparing the tarp — it’s for sale — for transport is just one of the duties. Some of the Shockers are sweeping the stands. Some wiped down the padding on the outfield fence. Players cleaned the locker room and team room and inventoried equipment.
“He wants to get all the guys together again,” infielder Erik Harbutz said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys. This is our field and we want to take care of it and want it to be as pristine as possible.”
Baseball players seem to do more housekeeping than most athletes. They grow up grooming the mound, picking up bases and pulling the tarp. Butler took charge of Alabama’s work day in 1995 when he was an assistant.
“I want our players to take pride in the facilities that we have and to appreciate all the nice things we have,” he said.
The Shockers begin workouts Monday in groups of four players. Team practices begin Sept. 9 and run through Oct. 23.
Green said Butler is prepared with new drills, new equipment and binder full of plans for his practices.
“A large binder,” Green said. “We’re excited to see what they have to offer. Coach Butler, he communicates really well. He has a plan.”
Cutler said the tarp was purchased about six years ago and is lightly used. He estimates it cost around $15,000 and said it is made of 10-ounce vinyl, heavy enough to stay anchored in high winds. Most tarps, Cutler said, are 160 feet by 160 feet. This is one is 190 by 185.
“It’s heavier than a regular tarp,” he said. “It’s a big sucker.”
Cutler tarps the mound, which remains dirt. Sometimes he places small tarps over the bases to protect the sliding areas. The days of long delays after covering the infield are gone.
“This stuff dries out so quickly,” he said. “It doesn’t puddle. It drains right through like crazy.”
For information, call Cutler at 316-978-5228.
Thies (6-foot, 160 pounds) said he also considered Creighton, Austin Peay and Pittsburg State.
“It was an easy decision,” Thies said. “It's a baseball town. Wichita State doesn't have a football team, so the baseball team are the main guys. That's what I really liked about it.”
Thies, who plays for the Mac-N-Seitz Indians in the summer, also liked the demeanor of Butler. Thies said he wants to play for a coach who can push his players without screaming.
“The coaching staff, you can tell, they want to win and are competitive people,” he said. “They want to win, but not necessarily by yelling at players.”
DeBacker (6-3, 185) plays center field and bats leadoff for Lee’s Summit North. He earned All-Big Six second-team honors and played on the Missouri Junior Sun Belt team. He said he also considered Bradley and Army.
He is in the International Baccalaureate program at Lee’s Summit North and is considering majoring in international business or engineering at WSU.
“I loved the university,” DeBacker said. “The new coaching staff is awesome. I love the way they are going to be running things. They're focused on your development and with your development comes winning.”
They will join previous commitments Taylor Goshen, a pitcher from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Carroll, Bishop Carroll catcher Taylor Sanagorski, Rockhurst (Mo.) shortstop Trey Vickers, Manhattan outfielder Bret Fehr, Shawnee Mission East utility player Gunnar Troutwine, pitcher Matt Whalen, from Valor Christian in Highlands Ranch, Colo., Andale-Garden Plain pitcher Tyler Jones, Owasso (Okla.) left-handed pitcher Jeb Bargfeldt and Edmond (Okla.) Deer Creek shortstop Jordan Boyer.