Things have come full circle for new Fort Scott High School head baseball coach Josh Regan, who grew up with the program his father, David, started in 1990.
When David Regan passed away in 2002, Josh returned from the west coast and was moved by what well wishers said about how his father had impacted their lives both as a coach and a teacher.
"I told the guys at the SEK media day that some of my very first memories are of riding the bus along these highways to Parsons and Labette County and Chanute and Independence and Coffeyville to be bat boys, my brothers and I, carrying equipment on and off the same fields we'll be playing on this year," Regan said Wednesday morning in the boys' athletic office at the high school.
"It's incredibly special. This office, I was in here when I was 4 or 5 years old listening to my dad talking to coaches, to players. I literally grew up in this program. And the opportunity to be a part of it again is something I couldn't turn down."
Regan played for the Tigers from 1995-98. He coached for a year at Tonganoxie while he was a student-teacher. He was head coach most recently at Jayhawk-Linn, one year as the softball coach and two as the baseball coach. Regan takes over the Fort Scott program from B.J. Pruitt, who in turn has taken the head boys' track position.
The Tigers went 15-7 last season, 12-4 in the Southeast Kansas League. The season begins Monday with a varsity/junior varsity doubleheader at Nevada. The varsity game will be played first at 4:30 p.m. This is a change from the original schedule, which has this as a varsity doubleheader.
Regan has 34 players out as of Wednesday morning, 18 of which are freshmen. And he's almost surprised that they've all stuck it out as he's been pushing them in pre-season practice.
"I've put it on them," Regan said. "They've worked their tails off. It says a lot about this group that they haven't walked away from it. So I'm really proud of them."
With mostly dry weather -- until this week, anyway -- Regan has had his players in at 6 a.m. for about an hour and a half of conditioning. Then they practice after school, sometimes staying at the field until 7:30. The advantage is that getting conditioning out of the way early allows the team to work strictly on baseball in the afternoon.
And high school baseball in 2012 will be a different kind of game, Regan says. A new standard in how non-wood bats are constructed, known as "BB core," is meant to make those bats behave more like wood ones. The reasoning behind the change was to make the game safer by slowing down the ball as it comes off the bat. That, in turn, should reign in offenses.
"The NCAA went to it last year and the results were dramatic," Regan said. "Batting average, home runs, runs scored went down sharply.
"It will also put the game back in balance. I like it because it makes you do the little things. Pitchers are going to have to throw strikes and challenge people. You're going to have to be able to handle steal situations, bunt situations, first-and-third situations. It brings all those strategic things back into the mix. So you have to be able to execute those things on offense and handle those things on defense."
Regan sees his defense up the middle -- catcher, shortstop, second base and center field -- as the Tigers' strength. Most of Fort Scott's returning experience is at those positions and in the outfield as a whole.
Dane Cummings, one of the Tigers' five seniors, is set to start at catcher after playing a reserve role last season. Sophomore John Hughes is a reserve with Regan stating that a couple of freshmen may be able to step in.
Senior Luke Brown is back at shortstop with sophomore Jake Durossette stepping in at second base.
"Luke has looked outstanding," Regan says. "Jake does not look like a sophomore. And this is one of the best double-play combinations in the league.
Sophomore Zach Denton will be a second-year starter in center. Senior Justin Uhler will be in left when he's not pitching. Senior Dustin Stewart will be in right field most of the time. Junior Chase Howser and freshman Wyatt Reehl will be the reserves.
Clayton Hixson, a sophomore, will play third base with Stewart also playing there on occasion. Senior Brent Parsons will be at first base with junior Caleb Moore and sophomore Garin Sinn as backups. Freshman Ben Labbe can play either first or third.
Pitching is one of the questions marks as the season begins as those who threw the most innings graduated. Uhler is the most experienced at the varsity level and is the "clear-cut ace," according to Regan. Parsons and Moore will also pitch. Regan feels that there are several younger players who have good arms and could see varsity time.
Although not firmly set yet, Regan sees Denton and Durossette as his top two batters in the order. Brown will hit third. Cummings, Parsons and Stewart will fit in after him. Uhler would bat seventh with the remainder depending on who's pitching. Regan sees Howser as the No. 9 batter not because of having the weakest bat but as a "second lead-off" batter, so to speak -- someone who can get on base for the top of the order to bring around.
Regan feels that the Tigers will be able to contend for the SEK title -- which Fort Scott won twice while he was a player here -- as long as they can do those little things he spoke of.
"Clearly Iola and Pittsburg are the teams to beat in the league," Regan said. "But I truly believe that by the time everybody's scrapping in the SEK, we'll be right there. One of the team's goals is to win the SEK and I certainly believe we're capable of that. But we have to do the little things and we have to do them right. We're not so incredibly talented that we just throw our gloves out there and beat anyone. We'll have to be solid."
Iola led the SEK until the final day of the season last year and ended up third behind co-champions Columbus and Pittsburg. This year, Iola -- which is in its final season as a league member -- was voted as the favorite in the pre-season media day meeting while Pittsburg was picked second. The Tigers were chosen fourth behind Columbus, which is also in its last season in the SEK.
Fort Scott's first varsity home games will be a doubleheader against Girard March 29 at Lions Field.