'Future is now' for second-year Tolton baseball coach

Monday, April 21, 2014 | 9:04 p.m. CDT; updated 11:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — The future is now.

Technically, that is an incorrect statement. The present is now. The future is later. But the Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School baseball team isn't worried about semantics.

That statement has been the banner for Tolton's second-year varsity baseball program. It is a reminder to not put off the work that needs to be done now, lest the team fall into the trap of hiding behind youth as an excuse. The Trailblazers have already topped last season's win total with their 5-7 record, but they remain ill-content. Tolton knows it is building toward a better future ... now.

"As a coach starting a program, you try to find something the kids can grab onto a bit," Tolton coach Mike Johnson said about the slogan.

Johnson said he won't allow himself to view his team as anything less than a complete varsity program despite the youth of his players. The team has three freshmen and two sophomores, all of whom contribute greatly to the Trailblazers in varsity games..

Johnson expects his players to compete with older teams. He said the team has a winning mindset. Tolton, after finishing 4-11 last season, thinks it can beat anybody.

"We're not going to sit back and talk about how young we are and use that as a crutch," Johnson said. "We want to win now."

Wearing a dark blue Tolton hoodie, Johnson stands with his arms crossed and legs shoulder-width. Standout sophomore pitcher Rian Markes is taking swings in the batting cage. Johnson said he sees the future in players like Markes and sophomore catcher Tate Cooper. Cooper, in a reversal of roles, is pitching to Markes in the cage.

"They are the future," Johnson said.

Cooper and Markes alternate turns in the batting cage, both displaying a surprisingly crisp swing for players their age. Markes punches a ball through the netting that surrounds the cages.

"Well, at least you are hitting them hard," Johnson joked at Markes.

Markes hits another ball through the netting.

"Ryan, quit doing that," Johnson said with a laugh.

Cooper said there were some times in Tolton's first season when it was hard to believe the team could really play at the varsity level. But a year has made a difference. Tolton's pitches are coming in from the mound harder, and its bats are cutting across the plate cleaner.

Cooper said he and his teammates keep the bigger picture in mind and explained the paradox of the future residing in the now.

"As a young program, we're always building, and we need to be working on the future. But at the same time, it's all about right now. What we're doing right now is going to impact Tolton in the future," Cooper said.

Tolton can see progress in its record. Johnson has pointed out to his team that they are now the winningest baseball program in school history. He has also made it clear he is not satisfied to stay at the same level the team is at now.

"This is absolutely not the end," Johnson said. "We are not anywhere close to where we want to be or where we will be by the end of the year."

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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