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New Marion baseball coaches want Giants to compete

PLAYING HARDBALL: Marion's first-year head baseball coach Mark Fagan (left) and associate head coach Blake Hancock talk to the Giants to wrap upthesecond day of tryouts on Tuesday on the turf inside Dick Lootens Stadium.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Keeping the game simple is part of the philosophy first-year Marion head baseball coach Mark Fagan and associate head coach Blake Hancock are using with the Giants this spring.

Both men have worked together as assistants under former coach Gabe Wagner the past three seasons so familiarity with one another and with the players is already built in. Fagan, a 1987 Oak Hill graduate, and Hancock, a 2009 Marion alum, also share the same vision for this season and beyond.

Winning is the obvious goal, but simply competing in every game is what the coaches want to see out of the Giants. 

"There were a few games last year we didn't compete, we went out there and went through the motions," Fagan said. "Hopefully this year we've got some better attitudes and go out and attack some people."


The IHSAA's first official practice day for spring sports was Monday, and the Giants spent Tuesday on the Dick Lootens Stadium turf football field to complete the second day of tryouts before Fagan, Hancock along with assistants Josh Garcia and Jeremy Rodabaugh went off to make the final roster decisions for the nearly 30 players who came out.

Fagan said the numbers were similar to the past couple seasons and he didn't anticipate having to make any cuts, only decide who would play varsity or JV. 

What the Giants will have is experience at the varsity level, at least nine seniors will fill out a big portion of the roster, and most have played varsity since their freshman seasons. 

"This team that we have should compete and play hard every game," Hancock said. "We'll have nine players on the field everyday that want to win and won't settle for second. That's what matters the most to us. It's going to help the young kids well.


"I think leadership just has to fall down the ladder, that's a big thing," he added. "It's going to mold the kids we have coming up in the program. The kids that we have at the top are fantastic kids that love baseball and I think that will trickle down and be a big positive for us this year."


While Marion has a plethora of experience, plenty of growing pains have come along with it. The Giants are 21-49 the last three seasons and have been eliminated in the opening round of sectional each year. But Fagan said he regularly had 10 to 15 kids attend offseason workouts and a strong emphasis on fundamentals will be a regular part of daily practice this season.

"It's the fundamentals, not catching fly balls the past couple of years really hurt us," Fagan said. "Throwing errors, just the fundamentals of the game. That goes back to not being (taught) at Lincoln Field."

Fagan and Hancock are at the top of the overhaul of Marion baseball, while Tino Mitchener, who's son AJ will be a sophomore for the Giants is putting full effort into rebuilding from the ground-floor as commissioner of Marion Babe Ruth Baseball leagues that will be played at Lincoln this summer. The efforts to complete the overhaul have just begun, but all involved remember when Marion was able to compete state-wide at nearly every level.


"Playing at (Oak Hill) we had to go through (Marion) every year at sectional time and if you wanted to play any competition ball during the summer it was at Lincoln Field," Fagan said. "You could make the sandlot any day but if you wanted to get better you had to go to where the competition was, especially Lincoln Field back in those days.


"We're going to try to have a camp out at Lincoln Field where the varsity players will go out on a Sunday and communicate  with the little leaguers and try to get the excitement back," he added. "Back to where they idolize or to where (little leaguers are) actually looking up to the older people."



The Giants already displayed some spirited competition during time trips around the bases during Tuesday's tryout. Fagan and Hancock believe that competitive spirit will carry over into practice and games. 

Trying to instil confidence and belief that Marion can be a winning team this season is also part of the coaches' objectives and that remains a work in progress.

"It's getting kids to understand that Marion baseball does have a (winning) tradition and buying into that we can be the next team to put that forth. That's the biggest thing," Hancock said. "Winning is the number one priority obviously, but doing the right things and knowing that you can gradually get better every game is what they have to understand.

"Sure we want to win every game but we need to come in here and put our best foot forward in every game and we'll be in 80 percent of the games," he added. "The kids that are going to be on that field are confident in their ability. They know if they do what their jobs are, they know they can compete."