One of the most experienced coaches leading a Pro-League side in 2020, Rod Drew is hoping his third season in charge of the Lions will bring another title to the franchise.
The Lions tasted success in the first year of Pro-League baseball in 2018 with a 3-1 win over the Wolves before a third-place finish last year.
“My favourite memory from past Pro-League seasons was claiming the first-ever Pro-League championship in 2018,” Drew said, eager to get the team back to that position when games get underway on 4 August.
Getting through to the finals may be a challenge, with the competition stronger than previous years, something Drew has identified as he expects every game, and team, to present its own challenges.
“With the reintroduction of the Perth Heat Futures players into the program, I expect the standard to be higher and tougher each week,” Drew said.
Drew believes Pro-League serves a valuable purpose as Baseball WA’s primary team-based Talent ID and development program. He wants to make a difference as a coach, and he takes inspiration from four-time Hawthorn AFL-premiership-winning coach Alastair Clarkson.
“My favourite thing about coaching is being involved in a player’s progress in some way, big or small, that enables them to achieve success and fulfil their dreams,” Drew said.
A lot of planning goes into Drew’s coaching, and his experience at local and state levels since the early 90s has certainly made him into a highly sought-after coach. Currently the head coach at South Perth Baseball Club, Drew enjoyed a stint with fellow State League side Morley and has been involved in U14s and U16s teams and the WA’s high-performance programs.
“I like to have structure and a plan when it comes to practice and team setup. I believe I can adapt my coaching to the level of both my team and the players that make up the team,” Drew said.
Drew’s reputation for working with junior players and coaches is renowned within WA baseball and his ability to translate the finer points of the game allows for anyone to understand and learn, regardless of their skill level or experience.
“I try to teach players the basic individual fundamentals, knowledge and understanding a player needs to play and enjoy the game,” Drew said.
Drew points out the team’s keys to success in 2020 will largely be reflected in their defensive setup, starting with the pitcher and having the means in the field to back them up.
“The focus at this season’s draft was to select players to fill certain positions on the field after drafting mostly pitchers in 2018/19. These draft picks will add strength to our catching and infield positions,” Drew said. “Our draft selections have solidified our catching position for the next couple of seasons with draftees Patrick Temby and Callum Hurrelbrink. Our other draft picks in Taiyo Kurosawa, Flynn McGahan, Brayden Crombie and Aden Browne will add defensive flexibility and give our offence consistent contact and power plus increased base running speed.”
The extent of the Lions returning players and their aggressive recruiting of experienced players confirms the team’s solid chances of going all the way again.
“We have a high number of returning players who will be participating in this program for their second and third seasons which should put us in a good position to compete consistently and have confidence in their teammates to perform,” Drew said. “With experienced pitchers in Mitchell Field, Jay Reynolds, Lucas John, Calvin Eissens, Connor Chehab and Michael Albertini returning, we look to be in a good position. Add Brannon Hayes, Taj Varga and Josh Dass as returning players, then we have experience and depth.”
Claiming the title is just one of Drew's four goals ahead of the 2020 Pro-League season, in which the Lions face the Dragons first-up.
“My goals are to enhance each player’s potential, improve each player’s understanding and knowledge, increase each player’s love for the game and reclaim the title”, Drew said. “Our ability to execute the fundamentals consistently will be our biggest challenge. The consistency of our pitchers to throw strikes or pitch to contact will also determine how we go.”