Aspen, Basalt high baseball teams getting into gear with new coaches after snowy start
It wasn’t long ago that Crawford Field in El Jebel was covered in snow. This being where the Aspen High School baseball team practices and plays its home games, about the only real time spent playing outdoors early this season came in games either in Grand Junction or Denver.
“Everything that should be routine, it’s so much harder in the gym. It really does make a big difference,” AHS junior Jack Pevny said from practice last week. “This spring has been pretty bad. It was snowing a lot. I think we only got outside once or twice before we played. That was tough, but now hopefully things are clearing up and I think this is a really good team.”
Indeed the weather has made a turn toward spring this past week, causing the snow to melt and allowing the Skiers to play their first home game of the season on Monday, an 8-2 loss to Steamboat Springs. AHS led 2-1 after five innings, but squandered an all-around good pitching performance by Pevny with a lack of hitting when they needed it.
Now 0-7 overall, Aspen hopes to get some consistency going with a young team. Last spring was one of the best in AHS baseball history, with the senior-laded squad going 16-5 overall and even earning a postseason win. This spring the Skiers are starting from scratch with an inexperienced albeit talented bunch.
“The future is bright,” AHS coach Brian Bradford said. “We are going to hit some road bumps here this season, as far as learning. We just have to learn to play as a team. The weather didn’t help us this season, but I think once we get into our league, we will compete.”
While the roster saw a bit of an overhaul, the coaching staff remained intact, if not altered. Former head coach Dave Fuentes, who remains on staff as an assistant, stepped aside to allow for more time to spend watching his kids compete this spring. His son, Jamison Fuentes, was among those AHS seniors a year ago and now pitches for Adams State in Alamosa.
Bradford, who grew up in Denver and played collegiately at Northern Colorado, had been an AHS assistant these past few years under Fuentes and was excited to take over the program.
“Aspen has been great. The town of Aspen, the families, the people, they support you. It would be really nice to build a program,” Bradford said. “A lot of times we have teams come through that are good, but we want to have a program that is consistent and steady every year. The only way to do that is to put your roots in and dig in.”
The idea is to build up a strong summer program to get area baseball players on par with those on the Front Range. This year’s varsity squad has a near non-existent senior class and a lot of freshmen to work with.
They certainly hope to compete for a postseason spot this spring, but also want to maintain the foresight to build something special over the next few years.
“We literally lost all nine starters, essentially. We have similar talent out here, but they haven’t learned to play as a team yet, and that is games,” Bradford said. “I believe in the school, I believe in the kids and the program, and I think if we put in the work we will get there.”
Next up for Aspen is a home game with Battle Mountain on Thursday afternoon, weather permitting. Snow is forecast for the area later this week.
BASALT BASEBALL ALSO BUILDING WITH NEW COACH
Much like Aspen, the Basalt High School baseball team handed the reins to a former assistant this season. Robert Smith, a native of California, took over for Nate Grinzinger, who only spent one season with the Longhorns.
A longtime umpire and coach, the 33-year-old Smith has been in the Roaring Fork Valley for seven years and looks forward to building baseball’s identity in the community. He was a Longhorn assistant to Grinzinger last spring.
“Nate stepped down to be a little more family oriented, and my schedule allowed me to do it,” Smith said. “Coaching is definitely where I feel I can thrive the most. I get to be hands on with the kids, talking with them, sharing the knowledge and the things I learned throughout my baseball career. And I like to have fun doing it.”
Basalt is 0-2 this season, having lost to Hotchkiss (7-0) and Elizabeth (10-2) prior to spring break. As with the Skiers, the Longhorns spent most of their practices indoors early on this season.
Another relatively young team, BHS is scheduled to play a doubleheader at Battle Mountain on Tuesday before, weather permitting, hosting Rifle on Thursday in its home opener.
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team locked up a spot in the 16-team playoff field on Thursday with a senior day win over rival Basalt on the AHS turf. The Longhorns entered Thursday’s game likely needing a win in what was their final regular-season game of the shortened spring season.