Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Douglas is new LHS baseball boss

June 14, 2007

A quick glance at Harley Douglas' physical appearance likely will lead some to believe that the new Lansing High baseball coach isn't much older than the players on his roster.

That observation would be correct: Douglas turned 29 just last week.

But Douglas' age isn't why LHS hired him. Instead, it was because of his resumeÂ'. Not even three decades old, Douglas already boasts a list of playing and coaching accomplishments that rival some of Kansas' most experienced prep coaches.

Douglas was a three-year starter at Washburn University and played 1 1/2 years of minor league baseball in the New York Mets' farm system before transitioning into coaching. He spent a year as a graduate assistant at Washburn and another year as an assistant coach at Jefferson County West High School before beginning a four-year run as the head coach at St. Marys High School.

Four state tournament appearances and three top-three finishes later, Douglas is making the jump from the Class 2-1A coaching ranks to that of Class 5A at Lansing.

"He has tons of experience," LHS activities director Gary Mattingly said. "He has minor league experience, college experience, head coaching experience and a lot of success. He brought a package deal."

Douglas says his success is rooted in his passion for the game. He was a good player because he focused on doing the little things right. As a coach, those same things remain important to him: fundamentals, focus and commitment.

"I have a love for the game that's second to none," he said. "I want the kids to compete, and I want them to know that at the end of the day they put everything out there and they competed the way they needed to. It's a funny game in that sometimes you play great and you still get beat, but if we play the game and compete the way we need to, we're going to be tough to beat."

Douglas likes the word "tough" when talking about how baseball should be played. That's the way he learned the game while growing up in Yates Center.

Douglas' small southeast Kansas high school team regularly played tradition-rich programs such as St. Mary's-Colgan, a school that just won its fourth straight Class 2-1A state title this season and its ninth championship since 1993. The speedy outfielder earned a scholarship to Washburn, and he spent the next four years placing his name among the Topeka school's all-time greats in numerous statistical categories.

He finished ninth in career at-bats, eighth in career hits, second in career triples, second in career stolen bases and also set the school record for stolen bases in a season when he had 48 thefts as a senior. He batted .417 in 2002, his final season at WU, and posted a career batting average of .354. After that, he was signed by the Mets and did a stint in Classs A ball before returning to Washburn to focus on coaching.

He spent a season as a graduate assistant on long-time coach Steve Anson's staff, and Douglas said he learned a lot from his former college coach.

"He was very instrumental in me wanting to get into coaching, because I liked his attitude," Douglas said. "He wanted to be there and help the kids."

While in Topeka, Douglas also learned from former Chicago White Sox player and hitting guru Ken Berry. Douglas asked questions, listened and absorbed advice.

"The more you can extend your time around the game of baseball, the better off you are," Douglas said. "It opened my eyes that once I was done playing I wanted to get into coaching."

When a plan to consolidate the St. Marys and Rossville school districts fell through, numerous jobs opened up and Douglas was hired to be an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at St. Marys.

As it turned out, St. Marys and Lansing were very similar. Both schools boasted programs that won consistently but were unable to break through particular barriers. At Lansing, the barrier was qualifying for state. St. Marys' obstacle was winning that first-round game at the state tournament.

"Our goal when I came here was obvious," Douglas said of being hired at St. Marys. "We wanted to get over that hump, take that next step at state and get going."

Douglas' first season ended with a 7-12 record and a first-round loss at the state tournament. The next three years, however, were the most prosperous in program history. The Bears went a combined 51-16 and collected three state trophies. They finished third in 2005 and 2007 and were the runner-up in 2006. The lone postseason loss during each of those years came to eventual state champion Colgan.

Douglas' St. Marys squad remained so consistent during that three-year run because it did the little things right. The Bears made routine plays, stole bases, advanced runners and played with energy and confidence.

"Our goal was to score a run an inning," Douglas said. 'We knew if we could do that with the pitching staff that we had, that we'd be hard to beat."

Douglas said he will bring the same expectations to Lansing, where he is replacing Troy Andrews. Andrews left LHS after a two-year stint to take over at Oak Park (Mo.) High.

Douglas is spending time with the city's American Legion teams this summer to begin forging relationships with players. So far, he said he likes what he sees - from the summer program to the players themselves.

"The summer program is very important," he said. "To have the boosters behind you is very important, because you're only as good as the crowd that you surround yourself with. You're only as good as your assistants and your parents. I like how things are headed in that way.

"Now we just need to tune ourselves up a little bit (on the field) and know that you can't sit out one inning or take a play off, and they've got to realize that one bad at-bat doesn't ruin your entire day. Mentally we've got to get stronger, but I like what I see so far. My first impression is that they want to play the game, they want to be there and they're excited about it. They work and they play hard."

LHS assistant coach Jake Hanson, coach of the Lansing Cavalry 18-and-under American Legion team, said he is eager to work with Douglas.

"I think he's going to bring a lot of fire," Hanson said. "With him going to state all of those years in a row, he's going to bring that expectation in."

Expectations are exactly what Douglas said he wants. He wants to start competing with, and regularly beating, schools like Mill Valley, Santa Fe Trail and Bishop Ward that have given LHS trouble years. He also wants to be a postseason contender every year.

"Our goal is going to be to put the pressure on them, not us," he said. "We're going to create some opportunities to do that. We're not going to be a power hitting ball club by any means, but we're going to put the pressure on (other teams) and do what we need to do to go out and make that happen. We're going to be an exciting bunch to watch."

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