WENATCHEE — Dustin Willis coaching the Apple Valley Packers makes sense on a number of levels.
Willis, the Wenatchee Valley College baseball coach, spent last summer as an assistant for the Twin City Titans, a Central Washington American Legion Baseball League rival of the Packers. When the Packers job opened up earlier this year, however, Willis couldn’t turn it down.
“There’s been a lot of turnover in the program,” Willis said.
“They were looking for stability, and I was as well. The (summer) travel was difficult for my wife and I, as well as recruiting. It all worked out. I’m able to stay in town and keep on coaching.”
Willis takes over for Jerrod Riggan, who coached the Packers last year to an 18-16 record.
One of the main benefits of taking over the Packers for Willis is that he’ll be in a much better position to evaluate local players that he could be interested in bringing to WVC.
“I want to get back to recruiting this area, and finding some kids that want to stay at home and are capable of staying at home is very important,” he said.
“On the flip side, the kids want to know that the coach of the local (college program) is interested in them. It works both ways. They’ll get to see how I do things, to see if I’m a guy that they’d like playing for. It will give them a different perspective.”
Two players on the Packers roster, in fact, have already committed to play for Willis at WVC next season — Kyle Blankenship and Adam Grubb, infielders/pitchers from Wenatchee.
The roster is made up of mostly players from Wenatchee and Eastmont; Cashmere’s Mason Elliott is the top notable small-school player.
Willis said that he’s optimistic that his team will be competitive this summer, although he’ll strive to find a balance between winning and developing players.
“These kids are used to winning,” Willis said. “That part will take care of itself. We have some good senior leaders from both (Wenatchee and Eastmont), and younger players that will contribute. You always want to do what you need to do to win, but the kids pay to play, so we have to develop them at the same time.”
The Packers’ summer season began Wednesday with a doubleheader against the Yakima Beetles at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium, and will continue through the end of July.
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