Todd Olmstead finally snagged his dream job.
Since 2000, Olmstead had been an assistant baseball coach for Derby. He saw the 2001 squad revel in its 6A state title. Later, when the head gig came open, he put his name in the mix. He lost out to J.B. Nicholson, but stayed on Nicholson's staff, patiently waiting.
When Nicholson left the position after the 2012 season, Olmstead again applied for the opening. This time, he got it.
“This has been the job that I've been waiting for. I've always wanted to be a head coach,” Olmstead said. “That was the goal. I didn't want to leave Derby, so I wasn't going to look very far away. This was the dream job.”
Olmstead's reward? Starting the season with eight games on the road, including a matchup with Manhattan, which placed third in 6A in 2012, and a double dose of Maize, the state champs in 2011.
“We're going to learn a lot as ballplayers, as a team, as coaches,” Olmstead said. “We're going to find out quickly if we've put in the work or not.”
Derby has to refuel without much varsity experience to lean on, but that may come as a minor blessing.
The Panthers have been defined in recent years as a squad that muddles through the regular season before the screws come loose in the postseason. Derby's 10-11 record and first-round sub-state exit to Dodge City entered a guilty plea for the Panthers on that accusation.
Olmstead believes success in the playoffs will come from zeroing in on the game-by-game grind of the regular season. More victories there beckon a better seed, and maybe some home grass advantage.
“Let's host a regional. Let's make somebody come to our place to play, and see how that works,” he said. “I've got to instill in them the belief that we can win.”
That roster is young, but Olmstead is not walking into battle empty-handed. Travis Young (2B) and Garrett Rankin (3B) return with all-Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I second team honors in tow.
Young is the prototypical leadoff hitter, complimenting his switch hitting swing with his blistering speed on the basepaths – a tool that makes him a terror on the football field, too.
Rankin provides the pop in the lineup. When he is not locking down the hot corner, Rankin will take responsibility as the cornerstone of the rotation. Already sporting a curveball that waltzes past bats, he is trying to master a changeup, too, to add to his off-speed arsenal.
“Garrett has been a starting pitcher for us since he was a freshman,” Olmstead said. “I think his biggest asset is his bulldog tenacity. He refuses to give in and works his tail off to get better.”
Rolando Segovia can stand toe-to-toe with Rankin on the hill. Segovia is a lefty who tosses a heavy fastball. Jack Halloran and Justin Ash – who Olmstead calls the surprise of the spring scrimmages – will be asked to fill out innings for Derby.
With talent ready to be harnessed on the mound, Alex Whiteman's role becomes paramount. Whiteman steps in at catcher, tasked with getting the most out of the staff.
Aaron Cheatham is being counted on to take pressure off Young and Rankin in the lineup. On defense, Jordan Heatherington has to cut off alleys in center field.
The squad is fairly inexperienced, but any ballplayer can fit into Olmstead's point of emphasis for a successful season.
“The little things. Everybody says the little things, but when you're asked to bunt, get the bunt down. Catch a fly ball you're supposed to catch. Make every routine play, and occasionally a spectacular one,” Olmstead said. “Do what you're supposed to. The little things.”