Sustained success. It’s what every sports team is in constant pursuit of.
American Legion AAA baseball team Bellingham Post 7 is one of the lucky few to have been able to accomplish it. Although luck is far from how it came about.
For as long as coach Steve Slesk has been with the program — he’s been head coach for the past four years and someway involved with the program for several more — Post 7 has nearly always battled for a division title. In the past “six or seven years,” Post 7 has won three division championships, Slesk said in a phone interview, although placed second this year behind Lakeside Recovery — a constant rival at the top of the division.
Post 7 enters the state tournament on Friday, July 24, at Joe Martin Field with hopes of winning and punching a ticket to the Region 7 Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyo, but one thing is certain — Post 7 has found a recipe for success.
Here are three things Slesk has found are key to a great program:
Choosing the right type of player
To go from a long high school season to an extended summer season is difficult for any high school player and in Whatcom County, as baseball’s turnout numbers drop, it seems this would become increasingly difficult. But the motivated players are still around, Slesk said.
“It takes a special kid, a kid that’s this dedicated to baseball to play so many games. We play all the time; there’s not a lot of nights off,” the coach said. “It takes a kid that loves the game and loves the team and wants to be at the ballpark every night and compete.”
The key for Slesk is to continue to attract those elite players, who may view other programs down south as a way to get more exposure or a higher level of coaching, Slesk said.
“We want to put a great program and a great schedule out there to play so kids don’t want to go out of town,” Slesk said. “Jeff Bearden does a great job of scheduling to attract the best kids in the county to play here.”
Managing the egos of star players adjusting to new roles
Once those elite players, who were stars on their high school teams, are thrown in the same uniform, however, and asked to play new positions with different roles, problems can arise.
The key for Slesk is managing all those issues.
“It’s hard sometimes for kids to take a different role or take a backseat,” Slesk said. “It’s a hard thing to not play every kid every game. ... You have to earn a spot and give us the best chance to win. That’s tough on some kids at times.”
Lynden’s Jordan Wittenberg, who is in his second year with Post 7, echoed those comments in a phone interview.
“I think it’s hard at first, not knowing what you’re coming into,” Wittenberg said. “As you progress into the summer season, you find your role and you know what to do.”
Building chemistry as the season goes along
As expectations are tempered and roles are learned, chemistry starts to build and that’s “paramount,” Slesk said.
With the motto of no one player being bigger than the team, which Slesk described as everyone being able to bunt and be willing to sacrifice, that group-first attitude comes easy, Wittenberg said.
“It’s awesome. Everyone can step up in clutch situations,” Wittenberg said. “We all know we can get the job done, so it’s easy to sit back and watch.”
AAA Senior American Legion State Tournament
Friday, July 24-Tuesday July 28
Where: Joe Martin Field
Double elimination; Top two teams advance to Region 7 Regional Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Friday, July 24
Spokane North Stars
Bellingham Post 7
Other notable games:
Winner’s bracket final — 7 p.m. Sunday, July 26
Tournament semifinal 1 — 3 p.m. Monday, July 27
Tournament semifinal 2 — 6 p.m. Monday, July 27
Championship — 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 28