(Editor’s Note: This piece on Keith Evans and Lebanon Valley College baseball first appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in March of 2014. Evans recently stepped away after 15 seasons as the Flying Dutchmen’s head coach.)
BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Keith Evans is very much aware of his team’s place in the Lebanon sports community, and the Lebanon Valley College athletic program. He understands it and accepts it, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily has to like it.
At least part of Evans’ job is to understand the limitations his program faces, and discover creative ways to work within them.
A product of Elco, Evans has spent the last 11 years trying to build up and improve the third most popular men’s sport at LVC, with mixed results. As the Flying Dutchmen’s head baseball coach, Evans constantly faces the challenges of his sport’s position in relation to football and basketball, the perception of Lebanon Valley baseball in the central Pennsylvania region and the college’s stringent academic standards for its student-athletes.
“I want us to be a baseball school,” said Evans. “I’d like to get to the point where you hear people say, ‘Lebanon Valley, they’ve got a nice baseball program.’ When people say ‘Lebanon Valley’ I want them to think of baseball, not just that they have a nice field. I hear it, but I want to hear it more.
“We’ve never gotten a ton of coverage,” Evans continued. “The local media will come out to like one game a year. It is what it is. We’re not the marquee sport like football or basketball. So we just go out and play hard. But it helps any time you do get coverage.”
During his 11 seasons as the Flying Dutchmen’s skipper, Evans’ clubs have gone a combined 175-184-1, but have won just one Commonwealth Conference regular-season title and never an overall conference championship. After going 12-25 in 2013 – 5-16 in the Commonwealth – Lebanon Valley is off to a 7-5 start this season.
“Recruiting is huge,” said Evans. “We’ve had stretches where we did a decent job getting position players and struggled with pitching. We’ve got some young pitchers this year that other people weren’t looking at. We’re part-time coaches, but we’re trying to get out and see as many (high school) kids as possible. Sometimes the most important thing is just being there.
“Area-wise, we struggle, just because of our price tag (tuition costs),” continued Evans. “We’re doing the best we can locally. We sell them (student-athletes) on a great education. One of the first things we look at with recruits is their SAT scores and their GPAs, just because we know they’re going to need that to get in.”
Following a little coaxing from LVC athletic director Rick Beard, Evans took over the program in 2003. He had spent the six seasons between 1992 and 1998 as a Flying Dutchmen assistant coach.
Evans also serves as Lebanon Valley’s athletic field supervisor, a full-time position he has held over the past 16 years. In addition, local fans might recognize Evans through his work as a PIAA official for basketball, and umpiring in the Lebanon County American Legion and Quad-County Twilight baseball circuits.
“When we expanded to bigger athletic facilities, I got out of coaching,” said the forty-something Evans. “When the baseball job opened up, Rick Beard said, ‘Why don’t you apply? I expect to see your resume on the pile.’ I always wanted to do it. But I was passed over the time before, and I guess I just wasn’t ready to get the job. But when Rick said that to me, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I think I can do a good job.’
“It’s (recruiting and attracting local players) important to me,” Evans added. “Lebanon County has a good history in baseball, and I’m part of it. And Lebanon County has had a good history of sending player to this program. It’s important that we have local flavor.”
In everything he does, Evans exhibits a true passion for the game. But if there’s anything he likes more, it’s coaching baseball.
“I enjoy it a lot,” said Evans. “I kind of joke about it that with both of my hobbies – coaching and officiating – I make money. Obviously you don’t do it for the paycheck. But sometimes, there’s nothing better. It’s worth it.
“There’s a lot of things I like about coaching,” added Evans. “The competitive part of it. It’s a place for the competitive outlet. And I just like being around kids. That’s why I do it, to see the kids succeed. It makes it all worthwhile.”
He and his staff continue to work hard to improve the health of the program. But overall Evans is pleased with its direction.
“We’re a growing program,” said Evans. “We have three freshmen pitchers this year. It’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty scary, but it’s also pretty exciting. We’re a building program, but I like where we’re headed.
“I’m pleased with our confidence and work ethic,” continued Evans. “We have a bunch of kids who work their butts off. I can’t complain about anyone’s effort to be the best baseball player they can be. That’s where you start. But one of our strengths is also a weakness. We need to get stronger kids, and put our time in in the weight room.”
According to the calendar at least, Spring has finally sprung. And with youth, there’s always hope.
“Things are going pretty well,” said Evans of his team’s first 12 games. “We lost some tough games in Florida to quality teams. Our goal is simple: to play as good as we can. We’re not setting unrealistic goals that aren’t attainable.”