FORT MYERS, Fla. – As Keith Lewis talks about how he runs his Cape Thunder (Fla.) baseball program, it’s like going back in time. It has a community feel similar to the days when most youths grew up playing ball together through their local team.
Lewis, 43, coaches for free. His wife of 24 years is the team mom. Many of the players he has coached since age 7. They are best friends and will go to movies and hang out as much as they’ll play together.
“I do it because I love it,” he said. “About 75 percent of our players have played together for two, three years, about 50 percent for four, five years, which is not typical.
“We have a really good time, good guys. I want them to enjoy it.”
Whether it be through perspective or Lewis’ approach, parents understand this isn’t a baseball factory. They rarely second guess him or yell at umpires.
“When you pick the player, you pick the families,” he said.
When the team — comprised mainly of players from Cape Coral, Fla. — has an occasional road trip, players will run the hotel costs by their parents. Some will drive back and forth if the drive is an hour or so.
Part-time jobs and college visits often leave Lewis short-handed. That’s OK, he said, because this is normal life. About half of his players won’t play after high school.
Still, half do. Recently, one of Lewis’ players was drafted. When they go onto college, the options range from Polk State College to Alabama.
They have no problem facing some of the better travel teams in the state.
“I don’t mind pressure and I don’t think the boys do, either,” Lewis said. “Here’s my take. If they can’t handle the pressure, they shouldn’t be there, anyway.”
Lewis isn’t big on drills. He said it’s more about managing than coaching.
“I keep it really light, let them do what they do,” he said.
If players miss a sign, he’ll talk it over with them.
“I’ll stay positive with them,” he said. “Instead of yelling when they make a mistake, I’ll teach it a different way.”
While getting them to play well on the road can be a challenge, Lewis still won’t have a curfew.
“I want them to learn, too,” he said. “I tell them, ‘You’ve gotta be responsible.’”
About the only one area Lewis is a stickler is on hustle. On every ball that is hit, all nine players should be moving.
“They have to know where they should be,” he said.
Lewis, who owns his own air conditioning business, has been coaching for almost 25 years. He not only has developed teams but he has developed men. He also has developed relationships — relationships he values deeply.
“Sometimes they’re a little goofy, they’re kids,” he said. “They’re also pretty on it and they’re serious. I know the kids’ GPAs, if they’re taking AP classes. We help them sign with a school. We know how to help them with things like that.
“Our main goal is to support them and get them to play better — no matter what. We’ve got their backs.”