On the fly: baseball returning in Pullman

Members of the Palouse Coyotes baseball team pose during a practice. The AAA American Legion baseball team is playing an independent schedule this season.

American Legion baseball is returning to Washington after all. Sort of.

They aren’t competing under the Legion name, but Pullman and Colfax are fielding three independent baseball teams at all three traditional Legion levels — AAA, AA and Single-A.

The AAA squad begins its fluid schedule Wednesday in a doubleheader against Lewiston at 5 p.m. at Church Field in Lewiston.

The official Legion season in Washington was canceled in April because of the coronavirus pandemic, but some teams held onto hope of some sort of season on an independent basis. Those hopes are starting to take shape.

“We’re just kind of grateful to be playing, because there’s a lot of states and cities and counties around the country that are still pretty locked down right now,” said Kevin Agnew, the Pullman High and AAA Palouse coach. “For us to be in Phase 3 and to be able to get out there and do some things is pretty cool.”

Since they aren’t Legion-sanctioned teams, the squads can’t go by their usual names of the Palouse Patriots (AAA), Pullman Posse (AA) and Whitman County Cougars (Single-A). So they had to come up with a new name.

The consensus was the Palouse Coyotes, with one name for all three teams.

“We have hats that have ‘Cs’ on them that (AA) coach (Scott) Parrish had, so we just said ‘Well, we’ve got to be something with a C,’” Agnew said. “So we threw around a bunch of names and came up with Coyotes.

“I think each of us coaches saw a Coyote that week when we were talking about it, so I guess that was a sign.”

Agnew said there are 15 players on the AAA squad, 15-16 on the AA squad and nearly 30 on the Single-A squad. Nobody was cut and the Single-A Coyotes will essentially field two separate teams during doubleheaders so more players get to play, Agnew said.

Player safety and following COVID-19 protocols remain a top priority, he said. Players wear masks during practices and games when they are within close proximity of each other, and they do their best to adhere to 6-foot distancing measures.

“Everybody’s got their masks on and everyone’s staying spread out. It’s different, but we’re trying to keep everyone safe,” Agnew said. “... So basically we’re trying to follow the governor’s guidelines in terms of masks, where if you’re unable to stay 6 feet away from somebody, put your mask on.”

Agnew said the season is ever-changing. Since Spokane is currently in Phase 2, its teams can’t host games yet since high school fields are closed. So most games will likely take place in Colfax or Pullman, which opened its high school field Monday.

The Coyotes also will play games in Moscow and Lewiston. Unlike in Idaho, there will be no state tournament at the end of the season. Most games will be local.

“It’s nice to have teams close so we can limit travel and things like that,” Agnew said.

Agnew said his biggest concern early on is keeping players’ arms healthy. Without a high school season and with limited practice so far, players aren’t as loose as they’d normally be this time of year.

“It’s going to be on us as coaches to really monitor their arms,” Agnew said. “We’ll have pitch counts on them to start. The nice thing on our team is everyone can pitch a little bit.”

When they finally hit the diamond, the AAA Coyotes will receive a boost from a quartet of returning college players that should help lessen the inevitable rust from a lack of play.

Pullman grads Konner Kinkade (UC Bakersfield), Payton Kallaher (Columbia Basin College) and Colfax grads Nate Akesson and Kelen Becker (both of Big Bend Community College) will all play this season, Agnew said.

All that’s left is to finally play ball while the opportunity to do so remains.

“We have a strong junior class and a handful of really good kids that are back (from college),” Agnew said. “Those guys play at a really high level, and we just want them to go out and compete and enjoy playing the game.”

Stephan Wiebe can be reached at swiebe@dnews.com, by phone at 208-883-4624 and on Twitter at @StephanSports.

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