Lee High School's baseball coach Matt MacDonald, 34, of Old Town Alexandria has his heart in baseball. A coach for nine years -- seven years at Lee and two at Mount Vernon -- he is a special ed/chemistry teacher who works with both learning disabled and general education kids.
MacDonald loves what he does. He says Lee's a great school with great coaches who get actively involved in the community. There's the Lancers Unite Program where coaches meet and talk about how they can improve morale and prepare the players to become leaders. There's the Leadership Academy that meets to show the captains how to better lead.
There's the Reading with the Lancers program tied to Springfield Estates Elementary School where the players read to the younger students. There's the Little League Outreach where coaches and players attend little league games on Saturdays to work with the younger players.
They're working with their feeder program, Central Springfield Little League, running a Fall Academy working with 7- to 11-year-olds on proper throwing techniques, and hitting and pitching. They have a Winter Clinic with 45 kids, ages 6-12, for six weeks every Sunday, working on throwing, fielding, catching and hitting.
But even with all of that good community outreach, Lee's baseball team hasn't won a game this year, said MacDonald.
DUE TO SOME BAD LUCK and unfortunate circumstances, Lee's baseball record is 0-15. They lost two of their top pitchers, one to elbow surgery. "He was the guy that we were expecting to throw five or six innings and win the baseball games," he said. They lost another pitcher who throws a lot of strikes. "I think injuries have played a part in it," he added.
Assistant coach Nathan Adams said a rezoning of the Daventry subdivision cut their team numbers way down. When the season started, only 23 guys tried out. They lost some seniors and as a result, a couple of freshmen are starters. "Because of the rezoning, they went to West Springfield, which hurt our overall numbers, and we didn't have enough for a varsity and a J.V., so we just have a varsity team," he said.
So MacDonald said this year has been a rebuilding year.
"The way the season has gone, we try to keep our heads up; when you're having a season like we are, we're trying to keep the focus on working hard," he said.
As a coach, MacDonald is always trying to better himself and the team. He starts his day at 5 a.m., hitting the gym, spending 20 minutes with his little girl Elena, teaching from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.; practicing Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m., and if there's a game, not getting home until 9:30 p.m.
To stay abreast of the latest trends, MacDonald attends the American Baseball Coaches' Association coaching conferences -- one was in Orlando and another in Dallas -- that are led by college coaches, where they learn infielder and pitching drills and new training aides.
He emails motivational videos and good reads of the week to the players and parents. He recently sent one on how body language can affect play.
He's also trying to change the mindset of the team by encouraging them to work hard in the off season. "You should be training year round, doing something -- weight room, travel teams -- doing something," he said.
Before the season starts, they work on skill development with infielders on ground balls, slow rollers; working with outfielders on drop steps; and with pitchers on balance drills. Once the season starts, they do a lot of 21-outs, tandem relays, bunt situations, base running, and situational hitting with a focus on more strategic stuff.
Matt's wife Nora said her husband strives to make every kid a better player, a better student, and a better person. "He and the other coaches are always brainstorming about how they can play to each student's strengths when preparing for a game, what should the lineup be, who has been working hard at practice, what gives them the best chance to win," she said. "It is probably because he didn't have a father growing up, he views his role as larger than just coaching baseball, but really preparing these students to be productive citizens in life."
LORI BARB, director of Student Activities at Lee High, said MacDonald works hard at getting to know his athletes, opening lines of communication, developing trust, building a sense of responsibility and commitment from each of his players. "He truly cares -- this isn’t just about baseball; this is about teaching our student athletes strong character, leadership and teammate skills …. skills needed to be successful in life," she said.
Kye Colza, 17, an outfielder and pitcher from Springfield, said there's nothing MacDonald wouldn't do for any player -- from giving them a ride to extra help on the baseball field. "He's really great .... Anything you need to talk about, you can come to coach MacDonald," he said.
Chris Bush, 17, a shortstop from Daventry, added that MacDonald is a great coach with a great work ethic, and a good teacher. He said: "We all respect him as a coach and he's a good teacher, too. I don't think the record shows the progress we've made. I think next season's going to be a lot better and this season is kind of a rebuilding season."
Ben Gowe, 15, a center fielder and shortstop from Springfield, added: "This season's been kind of rough; we lost a lot of seniors this year, but we keep giving 100 percent effort and we're still having fun. Even though it's been rough, our coaches always keep high spirits and they never push us too hard."
During practice last Thursday, the mood was very cheerful as the players ran through training drills. It was obvious the team was having a good time practicing together.
Asked if he's known for any particular quotes or sayings, MacDonald says he sometimes uses this to inspire his players: "You can't have a million dollar dream with a minimum wage work ethic," he said, adding: "That's something we're really trying to encourage for these guys. We've got to work hard not just two or three months, but every month."