Tooele baseball coach Nolan Stouder has a tough job ahead of him.
The Buffaloes have struggled for years on the diamond, losing game after game and missing the state tournament season after season.
Last week’s two-game set against county rival Stansbury showed just how far the Buffs have to go to get where they want to be, as they were outscored 39-2 over nine innings in a pair of blowout losses. After starting the season 3-0, Tooele has now lost three straight and Stouder worried that his squad had slipped back into some of its old habits.
There are few things more difficult in sports than reversing a losing culture, particularly in high school sports. Maintaining a losing tradition is much easier than building a winning tradition. And for all the physical errors that Tooele made in losing those two games to Stansbury, the Buffs’ problem is more mental than it is anything else.
The kids who are on this year’s Tooele team have grown up watching the Buffs struggle since they were in elementary school. That can mess with your psyche for sure. Yes, you enter every season believing you’re going to go undefeated and win the state championship. But the moment you suffer that first defeat, a team that’s grown so accustomed to losing has a hard time not slipping into the “here we go again” mentality.
One error becomes two. Shoulders slump. The feeling after striking out is more one of resignation than frustration.
That’s not to say Tooele has given up on the season. Far from it, in fact. The Buffs showed too much promise in those first few games to believe that they’re ready to pack it in. They’ll have an impact on the race for a postseason berth at very least, if they don’t get there themselves.
But I’ve been around my fair share of prep sports programs that have gone through years of losing, and I know that pulling yourself out of that rut is a lot easier said than done.
At one point, my high school’s football team had the longest losing streak in the state, and had won only three games in a span of five years. Then something changed, and they suddenly became a contender, eventually winning the state championship three years after I graduated.
My college football team went 1-10 when I was a freshman, and it took several years and three different head coaches to get SUU to where it is today.
In pro sports, look at the Cleveland Browns or the Oakland (soon-to-be Las Vegas) Raiders. The Raiders finally broke through for their first winning season since 2002 last year, while the Browns are, well, the Browns.
Then again, look at the Kansas City Royals. That team had been awful since before many of their current players were born, and look what eventually happened with them. They found a way to believe, became a contender almost overnight and won back-to-back American League pennants, eventually winning the World Series.
It would be all too easy for the Tooele baseball team to fall into a Cleveland Browns-like trap, thinking that just because their predecessors lost, that means they’re going to lose too. Stouder isn’t going to allow that to happen — at least not without doing all he can to instill a winning attitude in his players in hopes that they can eventually break their slump.
It will take a lot of work, but maybe someday Tooele’s baseball team can experience a Royals-esque renaissance.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He hopes another purple-clad team — the Colorado Rockies — can experience their own Royals-like run in 2017. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.