It takes about 20 minutes to get from Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to Maize South High, and it is a route that Jared Simon has had to master.
Jobs as a pitching coach for Maize South and as a relief pitcher for the Wingnuts keep life busy and interesting for the 26-year-old during the spring, but as long as he is on the baseball field, then life is good.
"It has always been opportunity that I have always wanted — to have the chance to share my experiences and my knowledge with kids of this age," Simon said. "I'm very blessed with this team. They soak everything that I tell them up. They are willing to learn and hear feedback."
Hiring Simon before the season was a no-brainer for Maize South coach Chad Christensen. Simon had a successful career at Wichita State before three years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and picked up seven saves with a 1.90 ERA in 37 relief appearances for the independent Evansville Otters last season.
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"The amount of experience that he had, that was the 'it' factor," Christensen said. "He can teach. He does a good job of teaching the game. Some people can pitch it very well, but they can't teach it. We are blessed that he can do both."
Maize South had a 6.23 ERA last season and finished 9-12. The Mavericks have a 2.97 ERA this season and were 9-5 heading into Thursday's doubleheader with Andale that could determine the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division IV champion.
Simon's pitching motion was changed to sidearm by Wichita State pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, so he has the opportunity to teach pitches from an array of releases. But Kemnitz thinks Simon has a more valuable asset.
"As a pitcher he was very competitive," Kemnitz said. "I always felt like he was under control on the mound. He was a strike thrower, and he understood all of the little things — fielding, pickoffs, holding baserunners and all of those kinds of things."
Christensen has watched his pitchers become more mentally prepared since hiring Simon.
"Look at our sophomore pitcher Kane McCarthy," Christensen said. "One of the things he did last year compared to this year was he rushed a lot. Coach Simon said, 'Anytime you feel rushed step off the mound. Take a deep breath. Come back and throw strikes.' It has helped Kane become effective at the varsity level."
Maize South senior Zach Keller has also noticed improvements mentally and mechanically. Simon has become notorious around the program for his little black book. He breaks down every aspect of his pitchers and finds ways to improve their effectiveness.
He periodically takes the book out and lets his players know what they need to do to get better. Keller admitted that sometimes the criticism that accompanies the little black book can be intimidating, but it always yields benefits.
"It's kind of like that, but it also gives you an opportunity to remember the things you've worked on," Keller said. "It just reminds us how far we've come, too."
The Wingnuts' schedule hasn't limited Simon yet, but the Wingnuts have a series in Fort Worth from May 16-18, the same week of Maize South's Class 4A regional at Andale.
"We haven't really had a practice yet without him here," McCarthy said. "I'm sure it will affect us a little bit, but when he is here it helps us a lot. We always remember what he tells us. I don't know what will happen, though, since he just started playing for the Wingnuts."
Simon expects to be used as a setup man for the Wingnuts. "Being able to still play actually helps me," Simon said. "I can envision myself and what they are doing to mechanically be on top of things for them. It helps me correct what they are doing wrong."