It’s been awhile since the Ketchikan High School Kings’ baseball team stepped foot on a baseball diamond.
Sure, some players scrimmaged during last summer, and there were a few preseason games last weekend in Sitka.
But there has been a piece of Kayhi sports that’s been missing for a couple years.
The maroon and white jersey, with a ‘K’ on the cap, hasn’t been seen on the baseball diamond since 2019.
But like an old friend, it’s back.
The game is back.
The jersey is back, representing the First City.
And the Kings — with a ‘K’ on their cap — are back on the baseball diamond.
“Since taking a break for two years, and coming back to this whole team, it’s really fun,” Kings’ catcher Dylan Nedzwecky said. “Especially since we all know each other; we’ve been playing together for so long. Coming back, especially for our seniors’ last year, it’s just special to end their career like this.”
The Kings will try to pick up where they left off — two years ago in the state championship — but with a whole new group of players.
Kayhi will start its 2021 campaign on Thursday afternoon, as it travels to Petersburg High School. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m., and will be broadcast on KTKN radio.
“(That) 2019 team was real deep,” Kayhi head coach Andy Berntson said. “We had six seniors that played every inning of the season, and then a handful of junior contributors, and only about two or three of these kids even saw the field.
“Some ran, some just pitched,” he continued. “But only Korbin (Stack), Hayden (McGarrigan) and Issac (Romano), a little bit, got on the field because that team was so deep.
“So it’s hard to know where they left off because baseball is so incremental in your progression.”
The group of seniors and juniors now, were just freshmen and sophomores then.
Freshmen and sophomores now, were in middle school.
“Baseball is like a lot of sports, where you never really know until (you go) live what your progress has been,” Berntson said. “Especially in baseball. It’s not natural athleticism that can really carry the day — it’s certainly talent. But the execution is so much more important in this game — where you can have all the talent in the world, but if you can’t do it in game-time, it’s glaring.”
But that’s why last weekend was so important for the Kings, as Kayhi participated in a string of preseason games at Sitka High School. In total, the club played five games in 36 hours.
“The kids that played, played well,” Berntson said. “We were happy with that, especially on the pitching side — a lot of strikes; a lot of good innings. A couple defensive mental errors, more than physical errors. And then the hitting will catch up.
“That’s the same with everybody across the region,” he continued. “The hitting will get better throughout the season, which is what you want, and it’s what’s natural.”
It also felt natural to play somebody else. In addition to Kayhi and Sitka, both Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools were there.
Petersburg played, too, but just one day.
“Scrimmaging your own team is a lot different than (a real game),” Berntson said. “And you saw it with all the teams up in Sitka. You can hit in the cage all day long. But until you get out there, and see live pitching, the pitchers are always going to be ahead of the batters early in the season. It’s so much easier to prep pitching, as opposed to competitive hitting. So that was very predictable up there.
“We had a slow start, but had some pretty good moments, late,” he continued. “And all the young guys that went got some good time, too. It was a good trip.”
There were a few oddball rules during the preseason games — a 25-pitch limit per half inning, two-hour time limit per game, facial masks were required, and ties were OK — but all of that was all necessary to keep each player healthy as they dusted off the rust amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Kings finished the preseason trip 2-2-1.
“(The mask) would slip up into your vision a tad,” Kayhi senior Tyler Slick said. “Batting, for me, it fell off twice, and then you have to put it back on before you step back up to the plate. So you have to take your helmet off, and put it back on. But I get why, so I wasn’t arguing it or anything.”
Slick is one of seven seniors on this year’s team.
“It’s a great group of guys,” he said. “We have seven seniors, and those are all my friends. So it’s just been fun to get back on the field with them, and lace them up. Just have a good time.”
All of the games for the Kings’ two-day trip to Petersburg will be played in the afternoon.
After the 4 p.m. game on Thursday, Kayhi and Petersburg will lock up for a doubleheader on Friday, with game times set for 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Both of those will be broadcast on KTKN, as well.
“They’re always a scrappy team,” Berntson said. “They’re aggressive swinging. They come right after you. They’re not afraid of anybody.
“So first game, out of the shute, you have to go after it. We’re excited about getting out there to play.”
Following Friday’s twin bill, the Kings will return home on Saturday, and will be back in time for Kayhi’s prom, which is Saturday night.
Kings joined Alaska team in Florida
A handful of Kayhi baseball players were able to play ball during the winter offseason.
Terik Brown, Hayden McGarrigan, McKinley Hamilton, Dylan Nedzwecky, Issac Romano and Van McGarrigan all joined an Alaska travel baseball club based out of Anchorage, then flew down to Fort Myers, Florida in mid-January for a tournament.
“We did good as a team,” Brown said. “It was good to see those guys up in Anchorage, and play baseball for the first time in a year and a half.
“(But playing baseball at home is) more fun than playing with those Anchorage guys because playing with these guys, here, we’ve been playing with each other since we were nine, 10 years old,” he continued. “So coming into this season, us seniors are going to push a lot more because this is our last season. We want to win.”
Berntson said that that offseason work can only pay dividends for the Kings’ season.
“There’s certainly progress,” he said. “Those kids came into the season ready to play. ... But they also take the game seriously and put in the work. Whether they would’ve left town or not, they would’ve been putting in the work. So you would expect to see (their progress).”