BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison baseball had a collective record of 11-145 over the course of the prior half decade. Needless to say, winning hasn’t been a strong suit for the Bloodhounds on the diamond.
Coming into the 2018-2019 baseball season, the Hounds and new Head Coach Ron Walker are ready to break that losing trend. How exactly do they plan on doing that? According to the new bench boss, one pitch and one day at a time.
“Expectations are high,” Walker said. “We don’t necessarily look at wins and losses, they kind of take care of themselves. Our goal is to be a better team each and every day. If we do that each and every day, the wins will add up and they’ll take care of themselves.
“If the kids keep working hard like they are, they have a good chance at putting together a great season. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
So far, the season has been a wash (literally and figuratively) as the Bloodhounds have now missed a total of four games while playing just three. Despite the lack of regular game time, the top of the line indoor hitting facility at Fort Madison High School has allowed the Bloodhounds to collect some at bats and get back to the fundamentals.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have the facility we have,” Walker said. “We’re able to set up eight different hitting stations.”
So far in the three games that have been played, Fort Madison is 2-1 on the season. The win total has the Bloodhounds just shy of half of last season’s wins already. Even with it being his inaugural season, Walker hasn’t lowered the bar for his expectations. In fact, coming in as the new head coach has allowed Walker to look at the team with a completely fresh perspective.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and it made it easy on me because there were no expectations or thoughts being put into my head of what this kid has done in the past or where he has played,” Walker said. “We talk everyday about how no spot in the lineup is solidified by any individual.”
While no spot is solidified, there are a few names that should hang around the top of the lineup for Fort Madison throughout the season. One of those names is senior Jordyn Gerdes. Gerdes will serve as one of the top arms in the rotation this season and will also provide the Hounds with a powerful bat in the No. 3 spot.
Fellow senior Dayne Cordray will often see his at bats from the leadoff spot with his combo of hitting skills and speed on the bases. Cordray will also serve as one of the top arms in the Fort Madison rotation along with Gerdes.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I knew what the heart of the order is looking like right now,” Walker said. “In our batting order here at the beginning of the season we’ve had Dayne Cordray, a senior, leading off for us, followed by Jason Thurman, a sophomore. Then Jordyn Gerdes, a senior, and then after that in the four hole it kind of depends on where we’re at … I’ve got some great at bats out of our seven and nine hitters as well.
“Jordyn has done a great job of buying into our philosophy and our hitting approach. He’s been the leader with that staying inside the baseball and playing gap to gap. With his early season success, I hope some of the younger kids buy into it and it gets contagious.”
So far this season Gerdes is 5 for 12 at the plate with three runs scored, three RBIs, two walks and one home run.
Even he will admit, early on it was a struggle for Walker to adjust to Iowa athletics and transition from Spring to Summer sports. Back in Illinois, where Walker played his high school baseball, there weren’t sports offered such as soccer or tennis. That’s something Walker will have to get used to with two of the best tennis players in the state on his team in Jason and Vasin Thurman.
The Thurman twins again made it to the state finals in doubles action this season, conflicting with baseball practices (not games since they were all rained out). While it’s a new concept for Walker, it has been a smooth transition. He credits the work ethic of his athletes putting in the extra time to make sure they are prepared for baseball despite not being able to make it to every after-school practice.
“That’s a big change for myself,” Walker said. “Coming from Illinois High School, we offered two boys sports; baseball and basketball, there was no overlapping.
“I will say that kind of blindsided me. Once baseball season started, I had a hard time understanding that we still had soccer and tennis and track and golf all going on as we’re three weeks into practice. I’m big on kids playing other sports. I’ve got to tip my hat to our kids. We were inside the facility hitting at 5:45 this morning because they knew they had track practice or tennis practice.”
The fact that athletes are showing up before school that early in the morning has told Walker everything he needs to know about his guys.
“It makes my job really easy because that means they bought in,” he said. “They’re taking pride in who they are and what they represent. We talked about it early on, something we may do is offense in the morning and come out and do baserunning and defense in the afternoon.
“I threw it out there to them and a week before the season I had about four upperclassmen come up to me and say, ‘Hey coach, are we still going to do the mornings?’ Next thing you know we’re going at 5:45a.m. every morning.”
Walker played four years of high school baseball and continued his baseball career at Southeastern Community College. He later helped coach the baseball team and eventually served as the head coach for his fellow coach’s son’s traveling team. Two of the players on that team were Jason and Vason Thurman.
It’s all coming full circle now for Walker who has lived in Fort Madison for ten years. However, just this season the Fort Madison Head Coach position became available and it seemed like the perfect fit and perfect time for Walker to make the leap.
Being from Fort Madison, Walker makes sure he reflects the same amount of pride he feels in being the head coach of the program onto his players. He also understands that while the community wants to see the program turn around its losing ways, it is also vital that these young men be taught life lessons that allow them to give back to the Fort Madison community past high school, much like Walker is doing now.
“We take a lot of pride in it,” Walker said. “We don’t win every day, but as a goal, whether it’s your job as a human or a baseball player, we talk a lot about wearing that Bloodhound jersey with pride and representing our family and our community as well as our school district.
“It’s the same thing we talk about when we say we want to be a better team when we walk off the field than when we walked on. We also talk a lot about life lessons and how when we go to bed at night, we want to be a better person or a better son or a better brother than we were that morning when we got up.”
So far in the early stages of his head coaching career, things appear to be on the up and up for both Walker and the Bloodhound program. One key factor Walker attributes to the early success is the fact his kids are buying into what he is trying to instill into the program.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way the kids have bought in with their approach, their attitudes, their mindset,” Walker said. “Our goal is to play the game hard and compete one pitch at a time and good things will happen. The kids have bought in early and that has led to some early season success for us.”
Fort Madison fans will have an opportunity to see the 2019 version of the Bloodhounds this Thursday, as Fort Madison takes on Southeast conference foe Mount Pleasant in a double header on Mount Pleasant’s home field. If you can’t make it to the game, be sure to tune into KOKX 1310AM on Thursday for live coverage of the contest, as Ethan Lillard will be there with play-by-play coverage for Radio Keokuk.