HELENA — With Jon Burnett running the Helena American Legion baseball program, he’s made a philosophical change in his second season leading the Class AA Senators.
He’s taken a closer interest in the Class A Helena Reps and Class B Independents.
Burnett stressed the idea that the Senators are one program with three teams sharing the goal of the Senators winning a state title.
The plan is for the lower two teams to contribute in the long-term future, and in the near future if needed.
“We have some guys who can work long-term for the Senators,” Reps coach Dick Fuzesy said. “We have some guys on our roster who could contribute for the Senators this year if needed.”
With the Senators being the varsity level, the Reps would be considered the junior varsity and the Independents the freshman team.
However, the Reps can compete for their own state title. They qualified for that tournament last season.
“We moved some guys up to the Senators who we would love to have, but that still left us with a great batch,” Fuzesy said. “We are here to feed the Senators. We have some returners and good young talent moving up who played with the Independents last year. We have a nice mix, a good number of kids we can try different places.”
Fuzesy expects Tyler Tenney to be a steady short stop and Eamon Burke to be a strong bat in the middle of the lineup. Trysten Mooney is returning as catcher, and a strong leader.
The Reps have several pitchers they want to try. Knowing they serve as the breeding ground for the Senators, there will be plenty of opportunity for them to be showcased.
“The team building has already started,” Fuzesy said. “They are hungry and ready to go. We have a lot of names on the pitching rotation.”
The Independents are much more in the developmental mentality. Players are there to learn to the system, understand the language, signs and how the game is played.
Burnett also made the team younger the before. Seventh and eighth graders are eligible to play in American Legion, and this year there are a few middle school players on the roster.
The plan is tougher competition should get them better quicker.
"The goal is to get them to the Senators,” Independents coach Troy Arntson said. “It’s fun. It’s kids coming together. Some of them played together. Some of them haven’t. It’s all bout what the program, and what Burnett wants. We want to develop them so they are ready to play for the Senators.”
The Senators tried something new this season the first week of practice. Everyone practiced together — seventh graders right next to the seniors. Everyone went over the individual drills together, learned the cutoff plan and more.
Burnett also wanted the Senators to know the first names of the Independents so they will be more willing to help the younger players out during the season.
“It was cool to see,” Arntson said. “We didn’t have that last year. Doing it this year helped the kids to buy into the program to see what it’s all about. It’s not three separate programs, it’s one program. I think that helped a lot. It set the tone for what the program means to the older kids, to Helena and the American Legion program.”
Both the Reps and Independents begin the season Saturday on the road, while the Senators open up at home with two games against the Billings Royals. The Reps head to Bitterroot for a doubleheader, while the Independents head to Bozeman against its Class B team.