Sports

Federal Way baseball program in good hands

Seven years ago, Eric Fiedler took the helm of the junior varsity baseball team at Federal Way High School. The Eagles promptly went out and won two ballgames.

The next year — 1998 — longtime Federal Way varsity coach Bob Stewart stepped down and Fiedler applied for and got the job. During his first season, Fiedler’s Eagles compiled a 5-15 record in the South Puget Sound League.

Fast forward to the present.

The Eagles have appeared in the last three Class 4A state Final Fours, won the state championship in 2001 and finished second last year, establishing themselves as the top high school baseball program in Washington.

How did the Eagle coaching staff turn things around so quick?

“I think it is a combination of a lot of things,” Fiedler said. “Including the influx of talent in the Federal Way youth programs. Illahee (Junior High) and (coach) Ron Gibson have given us some great talent, which wins a lot of games. You’ve got to have talent.”

Another big factor is the introduction of kids to the summer American Legion team. When Fiedler became head coach, he said very few kids were playing baseball in the summer. Now, it is abnormal if a kid doesn’t play summer ball.

But, a lot of the credit gravitates toward Fiedler and the discipline and winning confidence he has brought to the program.

“I really think that it starts with Fiedler,” said pitching coach Danny Graham, who has been with Fiedler since the start. “He has brought a winning attitude and allows his assistant coaches to coach. He gives us freedom.

“There are a lot of coaches out there who think they are too important and their assistants are just bodies on the field. He allows us input into the game and allows us to make suggestions.”

Graham’s suggestions have been pretty solid this year. He calls every pitch during games.

“This is defintely not my doing,” said Fiedler. “This is kind of a collaboration.”

This year’s team might be one of the Federal Way staff’s best coaching jobs. The 2003 edition of the Eagles doesn’t have the big boppers or the dominant pitcher as in years past. But this year’s team has mental toughness and an attitude that when they come to the ballpark, they are going to win.

“Our talent is not as good,” said Graham, a 1991 graduate of Federal Way. “But winning spreads and our guys are good at showing up mentally. In the last two years we have had three guys drafted and two guys playing Division I. Our seniors learned a lot from those guys.”

Fiedler also has nothing but praise for his assistant coaches, which include Graham, Dave Ditlefsen, Aaron Barcot and Shane Sehlin. Ditlefsen is the JV coach, Barcot coaches the outfielders and Sehlin is a former Eagle player and a first-year volunteer assistant with the program.

“Their roles are as crucial as anybodys,” said Fiedler.

Graham paid the ultimate compliment to Fiedler when asked if he wanted to be a head baseball coach.

“I like Federal Way so much that I would be very content being his assistant for 20 years,” he said.

That fact was driven home earlier this year when Decatur head baseball coach Jeff Housman stepped down to become the football coach at the new Todd Beamer High School.

“When the Decatur job opened up, I had no interest in it,” Graham said. “That really says a lot about Fiedler.”

Also saying a lot is the fact that numerous former Federal Way players have made appearances at Eagle games during their postseason run.

“I think we have had something like 10 former Eagles show up just to watch us play,” Fielder said. “I am in touch with those guys and they expect us to do well. It is kind of nice to look up and see their faces in the stands.”

Sports editor Casey Olson, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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