Junior Travis Bassford cruised down the North parking lot and headed to the parking spaces behind the scoreboard in left field. After a questionable parking job, he hurried out of his car, threw a pair of gray, frayed and ripped baseball pants on and hustled over to the ascending gravel path that led to the home dugout. His bat bag bounced up and down as he sprinted to practice.
“Every day players come to practice with a different mindset than [players on other teams] do. They are ready to compete and get better every single practice no matter its importance,” Bassford said. “[Players have to be] extremely committed. It’s a tough game we play, and everyone has to buy in [in] order to ensure our success on the field.”
Bassford dashed to the third base dugout. RBHS players never walk; they would receive an earful from all members of the coaching staff. When he got there, he slipped off his tennis shoes and put on metal spikes. As his cleats touched the dirt surface of the field, it crunched under his feet. He looked toward his teammates, who were already on the infield practicing.
Members of the team field ground balls daily. They have 50 repetitions each day. Bassford smiled to himself: it was time for the team to get better.
“We improve [at every practice] by holding each other accountable,” Bassford said. “Whenever someone isn’t doing something the right way someone is always there to correct them and make sure that the guy next to them is getting better.”
No matter the time of year, Bruins are devoted to their program through preseason workouts in the fall, winter and summer.
“During our preseason workouts in the fall we do speed and agility work with University of Missouri Human Performance Institute, and we work on speed and agility,” Bassford said, “and then in the winter months we do weightlifting circuits that are competitions against one another. It allows us to push each other beyond our limits and put us in better shape while making us mentally tough.”
There is something within the culture of RBHS that sets it apart from other schools around the state. It isn’t always about the talent that players have. Sometimes it’s about the attitude and approach to the game.
“We take [baseball] very seriously,” Assistant Coach Andy Hight said. “We have a lot of fun, but we have a very blue-collar, workman-like attitude towards practice, games, offseason, preseason, all that stuff. And I think over the course of time that has kind of separated [RBHS] from other programs.”
From almost year-round workouts to three-hour practices every day and expectations of good overall attitude toward the game, Bruins players are held to a level of excellence. An outsider may see this as being too strict or too demanding, but people within the program value the expectations put on them.
“Of course they keep us to a standard that is almost unheard of in high school baseball,” Bassford said. “They make it so hard on us in practice to make us better so we will succeed in games. Coach Towe always talks about how ‘the little things win baseball games.’ And they hold us to a standard that requires us to do the little things right and respect the game.”
Though the mentality and workouts are vital, another element of the culture has nothing to do with anything that occurs on the baseball diamond. Perhaps the most critical component of the culture is the coaches’ affection toward the players. Bruins coaches see them as more than just baseball players, they are people with intricate feelings and emotions that stretch beyond their lives as athletes.
“Not very many of our former players have made it professionally,” Hight said. “What that means is we have to prepare our players for life after baseball. The family atmosphere comes from one, being around each other a lot, but [also] genuinely caring about the person off the field. We all know that eventually, we’re going to be in the same boat, in the workforce supporting our families, paying our bills. We have to prepare our players for the baseball side of things but more importantly the life part of it. That’s where that academic piece, the creating the family atmosphere, becomes really important.”
The solidarity of the team isn’t something coaches alone envision. Players, too, see the importance of that type of environment.
“I see this [atmosphere] in many ways in the program. Our program is built on trust and accountability,” senior Brady Maltbie said. “[Coach Towe] treats us like he treats his kids and helps us even if we don’t think we need it.”
There are teams that fail despite having the potential to be champions. Regardless if they had the most skilled players, they were missing a sense of family. Staying focused on what happens on the field is only part of being a teammate. If a team only focuses on the game, then the emotional connection that helps strengthen the needed bond between players is gone. A sense of camaraderie is essential for success.
“If you overvalue talent and not discipline and character, you end up losing your culture,” Hight said. “And so, especially working with the C team at the developmental level, I tell them all the time, we’re trying to develop the next group of district champions, and that’s individually and collectively. I think as a staff we preach culture a lot because we know in the end that culture is going to be what pushes us over the top when it comes to wins and losses.”
The Bruins are competing as the number one seed in the district tournament this week.