When a Blair baseball team last took Vets Field before Monday, brand-new high school coach John Roan spoke of his spring team's experience.
Six starters returned from the previous season and a total of eight letter winners were participating in March's preseason practices.
“It's beautiful,” Roan said at the time.
Fast-forward nearly three months later — with no games in-between due to COVID-19 cancellations — the view is just as sweet for Post 154 American Legion coach James Bilslend. Not only did those six returning starters — Colin Quick, Jacob Rodriguez, Ben Augilera, Max Nickerson, Auggie Rasmussen and Aidan Mohr — wear ballcaps Monday evening, but AJ Bilslend, Matt Dreher and Quincy Nichols did, too. Those three graduated from Blair High School in 2019, but are able to spend one more summer playing Senior Legion ball.
Nearly all of Monday's practice participants have logged valuable game experience at the highest level in the past, including on Blair's 29-9 Senior team from last summer. Just three of the 11 Bears who played in the Class B3 Area Tournament opener from a year ago haven't returned.
Taking Nebraska's Youth Sports Reopening Guidelines into consideration, Post 154 settled right into the routine of practice Monday. After playing catch in the Vets Field outfield, Blair ballplayers took to their positions on the diamond, fielding hits from coaches Kevin Rasmussen and James Bilslend.
Assistant coach Lance Hansen, meanwhile, kept eye on the Bears' pitching staff as it made throws to catchers Jacob Chavez and Mohr. A wild pitch got by every once and awhile as the team got started.
Coach Bilslend said Monday was an even sweeter first practice considering what's been needed to start on time along with the rest of the state. He said he's never had more to do before a first practice during his coaching career. That encompasses 22 seasons.
Bilslend noted the return of waivers from players, additional paperwork and reaching out to the appropriate officials was extensive, but worth the trouble to see the kids back on the field.
Senior Legion baseball games begin June 18.