Astoria High School baseball coach Dave Gasser has had years of success coaching at 6A Oregon schools, but it was in Astoria that he found the type of community involvement and family support that made the game more enjoyable.
At the 6A level, Gasser said, the parents wanted to have outstanding players. They hired private coaches, played year-round and wanted their sons to be showcased. When parents and kids are focused on earning all-league or all-state honors, it hurts the team, Gasser said. "You undermine the team success if you play for yourself. If you think as a team, the individual team members are honored."
The Astoria squads that won the state 3A championship last year and made it to the 4A state semifinals this season found success as a team.
"Your role as a parent is to support the team," said Mark Brause, father of team members Matt and Mason Brause. The coaches were honest with the parents, he said. Some kids would not get to play as much as others. From the parents, "there was no lamenting dissent," he said.
"We are family," said Terry Culver, mother of center fielder Brent Culver shortly before the start of the state semifinal game in La Grande Tuesday. "There is no yours or mine - it's all ours. They are all like my son."
"This is a really great group of kids - every one of them," echoed Carolyn Bryan as she waited in the stands to watch her grandson Adam Koehnke.
"It's amazing how the parents are supportive of all the boys," said Theresa Dursse, mother of Joey Dursse. After the 4-3 loss in La Grande, she said she was "hurting for all the boys."
"Baseball is such a family oriented sport, it takes 100 percent support when the kids are little," said Gasser. "The kids are dependent on the parents to get to practices and games. Parents act as coaches, run the snack bar and support the team. If the parents are not willing to commit, the kids won't be involved at the high school level."
Support for the team was evident at every game, whether at home or on the road. Numerous families drove six hours south to Hidden Valley May 25 and turned around and drove seven hours to La Grande for Tuesday's game. The fan support spanned beyond the borders of family, with friends of grandparents, neighbors, students and well-wishers in the stands.
"Astoria's attitude seems to be: 'If it's good for the kids, parents will support it,'" Gasser said. And support the team, they did. Parents ran the snack bar, provided water and snacks for the team, kept score and helped in any way they could.
Does baseball run in the family?When asked if baseball ran in the family, Carolyn Bryan responded, "Does it ever! I have 12 grandsons and they all play baseball."
Hans Lund's father, Dave, played in high school, as did Culver's dad, Rick, and Adam Koehnke's dad, Kurt. And there were others.
Other players, like Brendan Landwehr, may have inherited talent from their mothers. His mom, Yvonne, played softball.
"I was all football," said Mark Brause. "I didn't find religion until I coached softball. A lot of time was wasted when I could have been watching baseball. Now our whole tribe is dedicated to baseball."
Bill Jaworski said he never played baseball, but his wife Maureen played softball. Bill said when his son Thomas was a baby he noticed something different. He could throw a ball and had a way with tools. "Thomas could throw a ball from one end of the house to the other," Bill Jaworski said.
When Brent Culver was younger and struggling with reading, Terry Culver said she showed him the sports pages and read about the Mariners and a Portland-area coach named Dave Gasser. Terry Culver had gone to Astoria High with Gasser's wife, Vicki.
Brent was impressed that his mom knew a state-winning coach. "I'm gonna play for a coach like that one day," Brent said, his mother reported. "Not in our wildest dreams did we think he would be playing for coach Gasser."
What has this baseball experience done for the players?Parents felt playing baseball in Astoria was an overall positive experience. Theresa Dursse said for her son this experience has been "awesome." "Joey's taken a leadership role. He respects his coach and has earned the coach's respect. I like the way he handles himself," she said.
"The boys are like sponges," Terry Culver said. "Gasser brings so much to the game."
"One day Thomas is going to be a leader. Baseball disciplines us. He understands that he does it well - but in a good, humble way," said Bill Jaworski.
"Coach Gasser has made Brendan (Landwehr) see what he's capable of and pushes him to that place," said Yvonne Landwehr.
"I think this experience has given Adam (Koehnke) the opportunity to actually do more than he thinks he can. It expands his abilities," said Carolyn Bryan.
"This team is wonderful," said Mark Brause. "The kids have stepped up. It has drawn on their confidence and skill. I have to tip my hat to the coaching staff. They never stopped teaching. Other great teams don't improve, but this team has gotten better and better and better - from the day they stepped on the field to the end of the season."
In the Portland area, Gasser said he got support, but in Astoria that support has been amplified. "None of the tournament games are close. It takes amazing commitment. It's more work when the team is good. We're playing on work days. Parents have to take time off from work."
"There is a greater sense of community involvement," Gasser said. "Instead of seeing how the team can promote an individual player, the players perform as a team. What is enviable about Astoria is the kids seem capable of being a role player and being part of the team. They are pleased to be part of a good team. And that reflects the community and home."
Sue Cody is deputy managing editor of The Daily Astorian.