It’s not too difficult for Hempfield Area (Pa.) High School baseball coach Tim Buzzard to motivate his players.
Consecutive section titles will do that for a team.
Now, his Spartans, who play their games about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh, are looking for a third, and it’s Buzzard’s job to help guide his players to another championship.
“The kids really want to be able to say year-in and year-out that they won the section title,” Buzzard said. “That’s what they want to accomplish, so it’s one of our goals.”
Buzzard built his program on being upfront and forthright with his players.
“You have to make them want to be great at what they do,” Buzzard said. “You want them to believe in what they’re trying to do and be honest and truthful with them the whole time.
“They want to play baseball and accomplish goals, and if you create expectations to be great in your program the kids will do whatever you lead them to do.”
It took a while too for Buzzard to build his message, but the groundwork was laid once his teams found success.
“It’s a buy-in of the overall program itself,” Buzzard said. “When we have success, it makes it pretty easy for the kids to follow what the players ahead of them accomplished because they want to have similar success.”
Two years ago, Hempfield Area reached the WPIAL Quad-A semifinals before falling to North Allegheny. The Spartans won a consolation game to qualify for the PIAA Quad-A state playoffs, where they eventually lost again to North Allegheny. Last year, Hempfield Area fell in the opening round of the playoffs to eventual WPIAL Quad-A champion Seneca Valley.
The playoffs are always the time to shine, but it takes a season’s worth of work to reach that point. And it’s not always easy in Western Pennsylvania, where players deal with near-freezing temperatures and occasional snow on the ground in the early season, followed by pockets of rain in April.
“That’s probably the hardest part and the biggest challenge,” Buzzard said. “You play a game and then you might be off a week.”
But that taste of a game or two drives the players, Buzzard said. It keeps their focus sharper, realizing there is something ahead.
“It’s good when we get out there,” Buzzard said. “It makes them hungrier.” Buzzard builds upon the adrenaline created by game situations.
It’s a far cry from the beginning of the season for Buzzard and his Spartans. They play fall baseball before breaking for the winter, hitting the weight room until the new season begins. His players then participate in voluntary conditioning before indoor gymnasium work.
Tryouts are the first week of March and, because of weather, early practices are typically held indoors or on the district’s turf football surface until the baseball field is ready.
“We haven’t been outside in March in a long time,” Buzzard said. “Our first outside practice wasn’t until April this year. It’s the time where it gets difficult and I know the kids are itching to get outside.
“They put the time inside until the turf is ready.”
And then the weather breaks, allowing the Spartans to get into a groove.
“Now is the fun part, because you’re playing a few days a week and getting more practice,” Buzzard said. “You have to be emotionally focused and mentally tough to compete when you get these opportunities.”
Those moments help late in the season, sometimes when deciding a section champion and always during the playoffs.
“It’s the reason why everybody wants to play,” Buzzard said. “The playoffs are always exciting, the atmosphere is exciting . . . it’s the best time of the year.”