In the spring of 2012, Travis Johnson watched Del Norte High baseball games from the stands.
Johnson, the father of Warriors catcher Josiah Johnson, and other baseball fans did not see a win last season. Del Norte finished 0-13 overall (0-12 Humboldt-Del Norte League) while allowing opponents an average of 10.0 runs per game; the Warriors scored 1.2 runs per game.
“We didn’t really take last year seriously,” said senior Josh Barrega. “The coaches last year didn’t care.”
Head coach Jared Wells resigned following the season. The position was left vacant until Sean Harper accepted the position in January, but Harper resigned three days later.
With less than a week before spring sports were cleared to begin practicing, Johnson threw his name into the ring.
“I wasn’t going to not let them have a season,” he said. “It was time to step up and coach.”
A month later, former players can hardly believe what a difference a year has made.
“Last year, it felt like a chore” to attend practice, junior first baseman/pitcher Luke Seats said. “This year, it’s like we’re getting paid, it feels so good. You can tell, every practice, the guys want to be here and compete.”
Johnson, a longtime youth baseball coach in Del Norte County, came into the position with familiarity of the strengths and weaknesses of the 21 players he now oversees — including Josiah, now a junior. The team has also benefited from a sunny February that allowed for sufficient outdoor practice time.
The four-man coaching staff used that time outdoors to focus on fundamentals, conditioning and situations.
“They said they learned more in two days,” Travis Johnson said of his players, “than they did all of last year.”
Players, meanwhile, have embraced the challenges issued by their head coach.
“Travis isn’t going to give up on us,” Barrega said.
Johnson’s dedication extends to the Del Norte High baseball field, which the Warriors are maintaining on a more consistent basis. Taking pride in the condition of the field, the theory goes, will encourage the players to take pride in the minute details of their games.
“We’ve had several kids help us on the weekends with the field,” Johnson said. “Their dedication is pretty good. I’m impressed with that.”
Seventeen of the 21 players on the 2013 squad are juniors and seniors, some of whom had not bothered to go out for the team until this spring.
“There are a whole lot of kids that can play a whole lot of different positions,” Johnson said.
Del Norte’s season opener will be against Brookings-Harbor High on Monday at 5 p.m. in Brookings. The Warriors’ home opener will be Wednesday at 5 p.m. against Brookings-Harbor.
Coaches vocally express what Seats calls “the ultimate goal” — winning the HDN League title — in practice. Whether Del Norte is capable remains to be seen, but the ambition is a seed, planted over the past few weeks, to be nurtured over time.
“We’ve got some heart this year,” Johnson said. “Last year we didn’t have any.”