DALLAS — There will be a lot of growth coming from the inside out of Dallas High School’s Dragons baseball team this season.
It’s one goal of many that new head varsity coach Keeton Luther wants to meet — both for this season and in the upcoming years.
The biggest goal he is focusing on is, “implementing a new culture in this town for baseball, particularly,” Luther said, which includes “continuing to respect the game and play the game how it’s supposed to be played. And just be a tough out. Every single pitch, just be a tough, gritty baseball team, that people are going to leave being like, ‘that’s a well-coached, well-rounded baseball team that we’re gonna have to play well to beat.’ Regardless of the talent we have in comparison to others, or that we don’t have in comparison to others. Just being a tough, gritty hard-nosed team.”
Putting these changes in place has been challenging in a lot of ways, especially for the athletes who have been with the program for a couple of years.
“It’s kind of tough, because we are literally, for what I want to do for this baseball team, starting fresh,” Luther said. “And guys who have played in this program in the years past, it’s kind of a leap and a jump for them, but I think everyone is on board with what we’re doing here and willing to take that leap and jump, and trusting what we as coaches are trying to do.”
Another goal he has is to help influence kids in the elementary and middle schools to continue to want to play baseball at the high school level.
“I really want to get my fingertips in the youth program and try to be down there and be seen as much as I possibly can,” he said.
Luther was hired as the head coach at the end of last baseball season, after former head coach Scot McDonald stepped down to pursue a position at Crescent Valley, but has been with program for six years as the junior varsity coach and assistant coach to the varsity team.
His transition into the head coach position happened naturally, he said.
“The opportunity was there,” Luther said. “Being under Scot’s (McDonald) influence for the last six years has been an awesome deal for me, kind of right place, right time. I’ve been in the community, love the community, and where the community is headed, and I thought it was the perfect time in my career to go ahead and make this happen. It’s a big sacrifice on my wife’s side, taking care of our son an extra three hours a day, being a stay-at-home mom and me coaching baseball, but she’s awesome about that.”
DHS Athletic Director Tim Larson said Luther has great plans for the baseball program.
“We will vertically align the expectations of skills from the youngest youth program to the high school,” Larson said. “(Luther) has no doubts that Dallas will continue to be a strong force and a powerhouse of the state. I’m excited to see the development over time.”
Besides coming into the program with big plans, Larson said, “(Luther) is awesome. I love his enthusiasm, his attention to detail, insistence on doing things the right way and the focus on skill development. He is great with the student-athletes, and has a coaching staff around him that believes strongly that our athletes are positive examples in the classroom and on the field.”
Off the field, Luther is a fourth-grade teacher at Whitworth Elementary.
Switching from that role to a high school baseball coach all in one day is an interesting transition.
“It is kind of a different hat I have to put on,” he said, laughing.
Baseball has been in Luther’s life since he was a child.
“I’ve been ball boy in baseball programs since I was 6 years old,” he said, “so I’ve always lived and grown up around the ball park. I played baseball at Newport High School under some pretty good coaches there, I played some Dirtbags baseball here. And then tried out for (the baseball team at) Western Oregon University. Wasn’t a high priority on my list to play college baseball; I got married young, and had a son, so my priorities kind of shifted in the direction of getting my education and still being in this program. So, not a ton of playing, but we were very competitive in high school, went to a state championship.
“And my grandpa, who is also from Newport and now lives here, won three state titles with Newport as a head coach, so baseball has been in my blood, in that sense.”
He hopes that tradition continues with his son.
“I want him to do whatever he wants to do obviously, but selfishly I want him to be a baseball player,” Luther said with a laugh.
Baseball practice at DHS began Feb. 28, and the Dragons have played seven games so far, with a 4-3 preseason record.
The spring break tournament at Newport High School didn’t go how the team or Luther wanted it to, with a 13-1 loss against Philomath, a 7-1 loss to Newport and a 9-3 loss to Henley.
“We went to Newport and kind of had a rude awakening, at Philomath, getting 13-1, but I feel like it was almost good for us,” Luther said. “A little bit of a jolt, like hey, we aren’t gonna be able to roll baseballs out and play games with little intent or focus.”
The team has spent the last week preparing for the start of conference.
Whether or not the Dragons come away with a win or a loss, Luther wants to make sure that the team walks away knowing they did their best.
“I’d rather play good teams and lose than play bad teams and win,” he said. “I just want to play good baseball.”
He has his sights set on the postseason, but he said in order to do that, “we’re gonna have to play good baseball every single pitch. We’re looking to get into the post season … but we’re gonna have to play good baseball every single pitch.”