STEPPING UP — My Take: Pam Pack baseball applying major league philosophy

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, April 25, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS LOOKING AHEAD: Head coach Kevin Leggett talks to his team following a one-run loss to first place Farmville Central on Tuesday.

LOOKING AHEAD: Head coach Kevin Leggett talks to his team following a one-run loss to first place Farmville Central on Tuesday.

When Theo Epstein joined the Chicago Cubs organization in 2011, he immediately implanted a new, championship-winning philosophy, a different way of doing business in Major League Baseball. Over the last few years, Chicago has spent its offseason opening up salary cap space, using what they have to sign younger players with high ceilings, while the major league product suffered.

The Cubs, an enduring franchise that’s has gone 107 years without a World Series Championship, finished in fifth place each of the last four years under Epstein’s front office tutelage, but for Cubs fans, that was expected — irrational optimism being openly replaced by a fan base’s trust in its new president of baseball operations. Top prospects like the power-hitting third baseman turned outfielder Kris Bryant, shortstop Addison Russell and Cuban product Jorge Soler are being given time to grow. With Epstein, rushing a player to the majors isn’t in his blueprint, no matter how good he may be at the minor league level.

But over the last few weeks, with the call-ups of Bryant and Russell, Epstein has begun to weed out age, piecing together a puzzle of youth that fans hope will bring winning baseball back to Chicago.

Now to Washington’s team, one that has experienced nearly a decade of losing baseball.

For a squad that’s had five head coaches in seven years, along with a mix of different athletic directors, the Pam Pack hasn’t been allowed to build and grow. The result has been a 9-47 record through the last three seasons. But unlike previous years, this team isn’t worried, trusting t their new coach and buying into what he’s is trying to accomplish.

On Tuesday, Washington suffered a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to first place Farmville Central, leaving the tying run stranded on third base. Despite the team’s 3-13 record, the players showed signs of genuine disappointed, an emotion that was mostly absent towards the conclusion of last season.

“There have been many years of losing where you may hear a kid laughing two seconds after, but that’s not this year,” Leggett said. “They’re genuinely hurt when they lose, which is good to see because you know they care.”

Instilling that attitude was goal No. 1 for Leggett at the start of the regular season. And, with four games remaining, it looks like he’s accomplished it. The second goal has been to build for the future — get the standout sophomores valuable playing time while keeping those who still need to grow in jayvee, encouraging a newfound “winning mentality,” as Leggett puts it.

And the results are already showing.

In a bit of a controversial but planned move, while the varsity team continues to struggle, Leggett has kept a collection of talented freshmen and sophomores on jayvee, instead of calling them up to varsity, a formula commonly practiced in previous seasons.

The result? A winning mentality.

The jayvee team has flourished, posting a 13-3 overall mark and sitting atop the Eastern Plains with an undefeated conference record (6-0). And with the success of other Pam Pack teams like girls’ soccer and football, Leggett hopes this new mindset can be applied to baseball in the future.

“We’re hoping the success of football and (jayvee baseball) carries over into next year. They’ll know how to win, how to finish a game when they have the lead,” he said.

“It’s been a tough decision whether to bring (jayvee players) up or not, but they’re winning big. We want them to learn how to win and we’re keeping everybody down to make sure other (conference) teams know that these guys are coming up. I’m very proud of the jayvee with their record. They’re playing very well.”

Of course, there’s no money involved in high school athletics, no contracts or salary caps, but the philosophy is analogous to that of the Epstein’s — encourage growth, worry about winning later.