The hours are spent in the workout room, practicing social distancing while getting physically tuned up for a spring baseball season they hope goes off without a hitch.
There’s reason for hope, and two Redlands Community College freshman baseball players are putting in the time – just like their dads did.
Preston Hawk, infielder from Okarche, and Parker Ward, infielder from Leedey, are Redlands legacies for Coach Kyle Koehler’s Cougars baseball team and thus far have enjoyed following in their fathers’ cleats.
Preston’s father, Kevin, played at Redlands in 1996 and 1997, and is an English professor at Redlands. Parker’s father, Mark, played here in 1987-1989 for El Reno Junior College, the name of the school prior to the change to Redlands in 1991. He coaches baseball at Leedey High School.
The coronavirus pandemic has clouded a lot of pictures in every facet of life.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kevin Hawk said. “Preston lost his senior year (of scheduled baseball) due to the pandemic. He practiced and Coach Koehler came out (to Okarche) and watched him play.”
Preston said he’s proud to have the chance to play where Kevin played. During his time on the Redlands diamond, Kevin played for Coach Don Brown, who was a dual-legend in area college baseball as well as regional sports officiating. The team in Hawk’s sophomore year was national runner-up.
It means something for Kevin that Preston will play on Don Brown Field. Brown, who died in 2020, attended the wedding of Kevin and his wife, Cortnee. “Don Brown was a great influence on me. He taught me the game and playing for him was awesome. He was about the game and life. Four years later he was at my wedding.”
Preston said he can’t wait for Redlands baseball to get into full stride.
“It’s been a neat experience taking a similar path my dad once took,” Preston said. “It’s nice that he knows exactly what the process is like and what exactly it is that baseball players are doing every day. He understands the grind and is very supportive of me and the team.”
Same goes for Parker Ward. He said the difficulties of the pandemic are a test.
“You have to just do the best with the hand you’re dealt,” he said. “The senior season was limited. We have social distancing practices and workouts with the pandemic protocols as such.”
He’s ready for the chance to follow the Redlands path made by Mark. “He coached me at Leedey High School during the abbreviated season. I was looking for a great place to play baseball and I checked it out. Redlands needed a second baseman. It’s a position I’m familiar with and am enjoying.”
The dads are hopeful the experience can deliver for their sons what it did for them.
Kevin Hawk, who was an infielder with Redlands, went to Southern Nazarene to finish out his college playing days for coach Scott Selby. He earned his master’s degree at the University of Central Oklahoma and coached in the Bethany Public Schools system. He landed at Redlands as an English adjunct in 2005 and is in his fifth year as a full-time professor.
Mark Ward was a second baseman for El Reno Junior College and was named second team All Region. He took his game to Texas Tech for his junior year and then went to the University of Oklahoma for his senior season. He was a graduate assistant for OU Coach Larry Cochell.
“El Reno was a great experience for me and the perfect place for me to develop my skills at the college level,” the elder Ward said. “I was very blessed throughout my baseball career, and I am excited that Parker has an opportunity to play for the same junior college. Hopefully he will develop along the same line as I was able to.”
Ward said the city of El Reno is an important part of his family’s history. “I was able to coach the high school team at El Reno in 2004 and 2005. So Parker has lived there during part of his life before baseball.”
He said he always looked at El Reno “as a second home. I developed great relationships there during my playing days as well as my coaching stint. We love the people and it truly is a home away from home for us. El Reno was a great experience for me and the perfect place for me to develop my skills at the college level.”
The dads had a much smoother transition from high school to college than their sons have had to endure, mainly because of COVID-19. It doesn’t keep them from hoping the future is bright, not only in school but in baseball.
“I do hear a lot about my dad’s playing days at Redlands,” Preston Hawk said. “The biggest takeaway I probably get from these conversations is the impact Coach Brown had on his playing career and on his life. I love hearing stories from when he played and just talking baseball with him in general. It’s great to see how much has changed in the game of baseball and how much is still relevant today.”
The pandemic has necessitated changes in every facet of life. “Of course, COVID-19 has really been a weird thing and came out of nowhere,” Preston Hawk said. “It has messed with our schedule to even play baseball games, called for responsibility of the players to wear masks and social distance, and has really just left everyone with a level of uncertainty.”
Not all was bad, though. “When it comes to my senior year at Okarche, I’d say COVID-19 really just left me with an opportunity to grow,” Preston Hawk said. “It was really difficult at first because I wasn’t a guy that was going for sure get recruited. My senior year was my last resort to show someone I deserve a spot somewhere. I just took the summer to focus on preparing for baseball through the weight room.’’
Parker Ward said he’s enjoying being a Cougar. The semester has been used as a time to get in shape.
“Redlands has a great weight program,” Parker Ward added. “It’s a systematic process with a lot of leg workouts to muscle tone and get and stay in shape.”
Koehler said he’s enjoyed having the legacies and understand the route they’ve taken.
“It’s really cool to have the sons of those who played here,” said Koehler, who is in his seventh season at Redlands. He played here from 1991 to 1993, coached at Cedar Valley Junior College in Dallas and came back and coached El Reno High School for five years.
The sons of players often have an advantage in the approach to the game, he said.
“Kevin is just a fan and found ways to stay in it, whether watching or umpiring,” Koehler said. “He’d be out there umpiring somewhere and he’d say to take a look at a player that caught his eye. Mark has been around a long time and his son, Parker, came up with the same attributes and baseball IQ that separates players like that from others.”
Coaching during the pandemic has brought as lot of challenges to Koehler as well as his players, but they’re adjusting the best they can.
“We’re just like everybody else in the entire world,” Koehler said. “You have to stay in the moment and manage the day. As coaches, we’re used to a strenuous schedule and don’t like to deviate. But it’s not just about baseball. We’ve had 30 athletes that either tested positive or had to go into quarantine. It’s turned into a ‘virtual’ situation sometimes and others have still been able to meet. Tech has changed with the addition of Zoom and other things.”