When the coronavirus pandemic put an end to Pullman High School’s baseball season in March before the Greyhounds played their first game, new coach Kevin Agnew was determined to keep his players involved.
He couldn’t see them in person, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t coach them.
So Agnew, a seventh-grade English teacher at Lincoln Middle school and former Washington State infielder, used his teaching chops and 10 years of coaching experience to put together an online baseball class for his team.
“We all kind of went our own ways, and then after about a week I was like, ‘I need to do something here to keep these guys involved,’ ” Agnew said. “So I just started creating some stuff online and the kids stayed connected with it and have been really involved. It’s been great.”
Agnew used Google Classroom, a free web service he uses as a teacher, to create a place for his players to access coaching materials online.
It started with uploading worksheets on the mental side of baseball. Then, Agnew had the idea to add interviews with various people in the sport, like former Cougar outfielder Collin Henderson and some of his former coaches.
After that, he added items on the history of baseball, like Ken Burns’ famed PBS documentary “Baseball,” which is free online. And he also gathered materials on drills that college or pro players are doing to stay in shape during the pandemic.
Before long, Agnew had built a substantial collection of baseball material for his players.
“I think it’s really cool,” said Carson Coulter, a junior utility player for the Greyhounds. “The season kind of just ended like that and he could’ve just broke off and been like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll see you next year.’ But he misses us and he likes us so much that he made a Google Classroom (for us) to continue to grow as baseball players even when he’s not gonna be able to coach us this season.”
Agnew said about 30 people can access the class, including a couple of middle school kids he knows play baseball.
Agnew, originally from Woodinville, also went to Tacoma Community College after injuries with the Cougars. He returned to WSU to finish his history degree after finishing his baseball career at Tacoma in 2005.
He spent about 10 years coaching baseball in the Seattle area before his family moved back to the Palouse.
Agnew already had some material at his disposal from his time in Seattle. Sometimes, on rainy days his team would go inside and do a worksheet on the mental game.
A lot of his material comes from other baseball minds. A big influence, he said, is Ken Ravizza’s book “Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time.”
As interest grew, he started doing online interviews through Zoom, a video conference platform, with guys like Henderson or “West-coast guru of game development, Bruce Brown,” who has worked with UCLA football coach Chip Kelly.
In total, there are more than 20 interviews in the class, all about 10 to 20 minutes long. The videos are a favorite of his players.
“My favorite part that he did for us was probably all the different interviews he had with different people,” Coulter said. “He interviews obviously a lot of very great baseball players and coaches, and he got a lot of really good information out of them and shared it with us.
“It was definitely a great way to learn from different people like that.”
There are suggestions for what his players should do, but they all can choose to be as involved as they want. In physical drills, for example, not every player might have a hitting tee or a jump rope, so they can substitute something else.
“If you don’t have (a tee) and all you have is a bat, OK, go put up a square with duct tape in your garage and that’s your strike zone,” Agnew said. “Take fifty swings a day at different spots in the zone.”
Another popular drill involves taking a tennis ball or bouncy ball and practicing throwing it against the wall and catching it again as many times as you can in 30 seconds.
Agnew said it’s important to have material that anyone can participate in. That’s been part of a struggle on the teaching side too — finding ways to reach kids who have varying resources available to them.
“I think that was a reminder to me that every kid out there is in a completely different spot,” Agnew said. “Some kids may not have a baseball at home, some kids might not have someone to throw with at home.”
Coulter said he feels lucky he has a younger brother, seventh-grader Brady, that he can practice with to stay sharp. He also lives close to the high school, so sometimes he goes to the batting cages there, or practices grounders and fly balls with his dad in one of the fields.
“I’m very fortunate in the fact that I have a younger brother who is going into eighth grade next year,” Coulter said. “I still have direct family that I can go and play baseball with any day that I want, which is nice because it’s hard to play baseball by yourself.”
With organized summer baseball canceled in Washington, Agnew said he’s hopeful players still will be able to get on the field, whether that’s just practices or scrimmages or local independent games — depending on what’s allowed by the state.
He said it’s important for players to have good role models in their lives, like the parents, coaches and volunteers that help with baseball. That’s been one of Agnew’s motivations for his online class.
“That’s what I keep asking myself: why baseball?” Agnew said. “I just go back to that I really, truly believe it’s important for young men to be a part of something bigger than themselves and have positive role models that they can interact with.
“I think that’s really important.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at (208) 883-4624 and on Twitter at @StephanSports.