Sports

Mentink era begins for Trojan baseball

Justin Mentink will take over the Auburn baseball program for the 2014 season. - Shawn Skager/Reporter
Justin Mentink will take over the Auburn baseball program for the 2014 season.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

Used to be the Auburn Trojan baseball squad was synonymous with success.

A perennial powerhouse in the South Puget Sound League, the Trojans were also once a fixture at the Washington State baseball championship tournament, qualifying for the big dance nine straight seasons, from 2000 to 2008. In 2005 and 2006, the team, under head coach Tim Kuykendall, played its way into the state title game, finishing second both times.

For the past five years, however, the program has been less than stellar.

Soon, however – if new head coach Justin Mentink has his way – the Trojans will again claim their status as a force to be reckoned with on the diamond.

And for Mentink, everything starts with the intangibles.

"We talk about character and class all the time," Mentink said. "It's a challenge, but they're starting to get it and figure it out. Once they do, they'll be fine. Can't predict any wins or losses, but we'll change the way they act and play."

Mentink grew up in nearby Federal Way, where he was a standout outfielder for the Decatur Gators.

After graduating, Mentink started his college baseball career at Lassen Community College in Susanville, Calif. Transfers to San Diego State and then Washington State University squad followed.

All the while he was playing baseball, Mentink knew that, someday, he'd be coaching the sport.

"My family is just a bunch of sports nuts," he said. "All we know is sports. I've always known I'd end up coaching."

For the past 10 years, Mentink, has taught at Cascade Middle School while working as an assistant coach at Todd Beamer High School. He got wind at the start of this season that the Auburn coaching opportunity was open.

"It was a unique opportunity where I've known these kids basically since sixth-grade," Mentink said. "I've been waiting for this job to open up, and it finally did. So it's fun because I know the kids. I jumped at the chance.

"I'm in a situation where I'll be able to help work with the kids in middle school and get to know them and build a relationship," he added. "It's a chance for me to change the whole mentality of the program. From middle school up. That's what I hope to build."

Although Mentink said he's inherited a slew of talent from the previous year's roster, the real work for him is focusing on the intangibles.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Mentink said. "There are a lot of changes to be made. But once they learn how to work and learn how to work the right way and get the right mindset, I think we're going to be fine. The mindset in baseball is as big as anything. They've got to be confident. They have to know how to work. The biggest challenge we've had in the first two weeks is teaching them how to focus and how to work the right way everyday and carry themselves with class."

Mentink continued:

"They're good kids, I've known them for a long time," he said. "They're capable, but what needs to change is what kind of mentality they bring onto the baseball field."

On the field, Mentink said he hopes to address the team's lack of depth.

"Our numbers are down," he said. "We've got a couple good, young pitchers that will help us out and allow us to be competitive this year. At some spots we're just filling in. In order to be good we've got to have 10, 11, 12 kids that can be good at playing high school baseball.

Although success is often measured by the scoreboard and statistics a team puts up, Mentink said he hopes Auburn will be known for turning young men into ballplayers.

"I think they're going to say that our kids carried themselves the right way, that they carried themselves with class, they worked hard and they represented the school well," he said. "That's what they're going to say about the kids because I'm not going to allow it any other way. Very few kids go on to play college or professional baseball. If they can get out of this that they know how to work or they know how to carry themselves and be classy individuals, than I've done what I hoped to achieve. I'm not going to measure success by wins and losses."

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