Metro-East Living

Opening day in the shed: Highland coach invites baseball team over to practice

It’s never too cold or too early in the season for Jack Geest to practice baseball.

The 12-year-old from Highland just heads out the back door, walks past an ancient barn and into a heated and insulated 60-by-110-foot shed on the family’s Highland property. Dad Scott put up 60 feet of netting to keep the balls from flying everywhere when Jack, his twin Hannah, 12, or brother Nolan, 10, hit or throw. They share space with a John Deere Gator, a tractor, a trampoline and whatever else needs to be stored.

“It’s fun to go out there,” said Jack, who attends Highland Middle School and plays baseball for the Highland Huskies.

“Especially when you don’t have to drive somewhere,” said Scott. “In the middle of winter, we can have practice for 12 kids. It’s been so muddy, we couldn’t have it outside. Jack’s team comes out and plays here. So does my other son’s. One practices Friday nights. One practices Sundays. We can work on hitting, then whenever it’s warmer, fielding outdoors.

Jack’s four coaches have the boys practice soft toss, hitting off a tee and hitting balls the coaches throw. They talk about base running, and making sure not to run past second or third base (and into an out).

“We rotate three groups of four (working on different skills) for 45 minutes. Otherwise, it’s chaos.”

Near home plate, there’s an X on the concrete floor.

“A lot of kids want to step out with their front foot,” said Scott. “They will step back. That makes the bat shorter (and harder to hit the ball) They’re not over the plate anymore.”

Jack, who likes to pitch, also plays first base, second base and shortstop. His favorite subject is science; his favorite food, chicken fingers, and he doesn’t mind that his dad is one of his coaches.

“It’s fun,” he said. “He’s the coach so he has to be hard on us.”

This year, Jan. 1 was opening day in the shed.

“We start off slow,” said Scott, who works for John Deere. “They get used to hitting first, then we will do more and more.”

Player CJ Voyles, 11, said the Geests’ batting cage is “kind of cool.”

“It’s always fun. I get to play ball with my friends when it’s too cold or rainy or snowy to play outside. We mostly play ball, but one time my dad got the wrong time and we got to jump on the trampoline.”

The shed has another bonus for parents who stay for practice and after — a cozy room equipped with a full kitchen, a family room area and a TV.

“It’s like your basement,” said Scott. “They can come in, sit down and relax..”

Late Friday afternoon, sun had warmed the air to the mid-50s, just right for the team’s first outdoor practice. Eleven boys in navy baseball caps with the letter H showed up at Glik Field, behind a strip mall. Boys found partners and played catch, standing about 80 feet apart, until coaches had them form two long lines. The lines raced against each other, throwing quickly from each side. Bad throw, missed catch or turn the wrong way? Get down and give the coaches 10 push-ups.

“It’s not to punish them,” said Scott, “but to make them aware. It makes them more competitive.”

Scott, who played football at Waterloo High School, likes teaching the nuances of the game and learning about each player.

“They all have different personalities,” he said. “It’s a way of knowing the kids Jack’s with, and the parents. It’s good camaraderie.”

Mark Rosen, head coach and director of Highland Parks and Recreation, has a baseball background.

“I was fortunate to play at Rend Lake and Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana,” he said. “I didn’t play a whole lot in high school. I blossomed at 18 in Legion. If not for Legion, I wouldn’t have been as successful. ... Baseball gave me good opportunities. It made me grow up, get out on my own.”

Now, his reward is seeing the team improve; to watch a player get his first double or a struggling player hit for more consistency. He watched the Highland Huskies take the infield, two players assigned to each position. They practiced catching and went over fielding plays with runners on base.

“Listen up, when you’re done playing, step back,” Coach Mike Loeh called and “Way to be there to back up the play, CJ. Good job.”

CJ, wearing a red shirt and gray baseball pants, likes playing first base.

“You get to field a lot,” he said. “My favorite part is hitting. It makes you feel good if you hit it in the outfield, past the outfielders.”

The Huskies’ record last year was 4 and 16.

“Our goal was to win a game,” said Scott. “Our goal this year is to gain on that record. We won’t be undefeated, but we will try.”