SPRINGFIELD – First seasons can be tough, especially when the wins are few and far between. For the Springfield Drifters that was true, partially. Despite the 17-37 record to finish the year, the team is proud of their inaugural season.
“I’m gonna look back at this summer fondly, and I really, well … I think we learned a lot,” Drifters head coach Tommy Richards said. “I know it hasn’t been easy all the time, but I do appreciate all the efforts of these guys.”
More victories would have been nice, but this season was about more than the record on the field; it was about building a culture and laying down the foundation of an organization, team officials said.
“We’ve donated time and effort to a number of local nonprofits and schools,” general manager Jamie Christopher said. “That’s a key piece of what we’re doing. That’s why we’re doing this, so we could give back to the community.”
And the community has returned the favor.
“The community engagement has been really exciting. It’s been really good,” Richards said.
An important task from the get-go was to decide what kind of atmosphere the team wanted for the fans at Hamlin Field. It was an easy choice for Christopher.
“Give the fans the best experience they could, you know. Our mission statement, our driving force is affordable family fun,” Christopher said. “We’ve definitely provided that. I think we succeeded there.”
That’s not to say it’s been all sunshine and rainbows. As Richards puts it, there were “a lot of growth and challenge, and kind of things that aren’t so fun in the moment.”
Running a team full of college kids from all over the West Coast is tough. The team had losing streaks, games with few fans due to heat or rain, and players leaving for home in the middle of the season, although Richards said all the departures were on good terms.
Athletes at all levels and in all sports have said many problems seem to go away when you step on your field of choice. It’s something Richards can relate to.
“Spending your days out here on the field coaching baseball around guys that are passionate about it is super fun,” he said. “The relationships with these guys are just as strong as with any of the guys that I’ve ever coached.”
The Drifters’ leadership team also had to devote time to proving that their team and organization are worthy of coaches’ recommendations to players. The West Coast League is a wooden-bat league for collegiate athletes, which means part of building a new team is building relationships with college coaches.
“This year was really about creating relationships with colleges,” Richards said. “To prove to college coaches and programs we’re a worthy destination, to basically serve their programs and their players.”
Growing pains are natural, and losing seasons are common for new organizations, but what’s important is a team’s willingness to learn and improve, something already on Christopher’s mind.
“I think it’s gonna be much easier to accomplish our goal of engaging the community this next year,” he said. “All of us are going to do a better job. And I think we have a really good product to present to the public.”
Christopher said one of the biggest goals of this first season was to “provide Springfield something that’s theirs.” Mission accomplished.