Good Things Ahead for the 2023 Kingsmen

June 5, 2023

Following the first team meeting of the season, player-coach Tyler Baker reflected on his previous years with Kingsmen Baseball. In what could be his final year as an active player on any baseball roster, the Winthrop graduate took time to think about the life-altering trips he’s made with the summer collegiate team. 

Remembering the annual missionary work in the Dominican Republic, Baker said, “It’ll stick with you. You’ll think about it every day. You just want to go back…the people you meet––it changes your life.”

The Dominican trip is a big reason why Davidson infielder Aidan Rice is back with the Kingsmen for a second summer. The rising sophomore echoed Baker’s thoughts, saying, “The trip to the Dominican was really fun. Seeing how close the team got from the first day of practice to the end was really special. So when I had the opportunity to do it again––and now with the trip to Alaska––I couldn’t say no.”

Collegiate summer baseball is spread throughout the country in dozens of leagues that allow college players to continue their development during their time away from school. The Kingsmen, who were formerly part of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League (SCBL) before moving forward as an independent team beginning this year, are no exception. However, Head Coach and Founder Joe Hudak did not establish the team for this sole reason. The Winthrop Hall of Famer believes the team serves a higher purpose.

“I think the whole purpose when I founded the Kingsmen was to have a faith-based team,” Coach Hudak said, “How do you help guys become better baseball players and at the same time grow in their faith wherever they are?” 

A summer team that engages in Bible studies and attends worship services together, interstate and international travel are of utmost importance to Coach Hudak––and is a big reason why the Kingsmen are not in an official league this summer. While also playing excellent competition from across the globe, Coach Hudak added, “When we did this in 2021, we traveled to Alaska and lived in the same big log cabin. When we went to the Dominican, we lived in the same villa. I think when we all live together it’s a lot better for ministry.” 

The returning Kingsmen players agree the travel, while taking them to play baseball in places they never thought they’d have the opportunity to go, is perfect for the team’s missionary aspirations. However, the additional travel this summer does come with a cost as the Kingsmen will not be playing for an SCBL title. Whereas one may think having no end-of-season trophy to play for may lead players to focus on individual progress rather than team success, the Kingsmen don’t see it that way.

“Coach Hudak said it best,” Rice said, “If you’re putting on a uniform, it doesn’t matter. You’re trying to go out there to win…You’re trying to play at a high intensity all the time to get better for yourself, to win for your team, and also to represent the Kingsmen as a good summer team.”

As one of the four returning Kingsmen players from previous years, the topic of leadership was brought up to the rising sophomore from Davidson. Despite being part of the younger cast of Kingsmen, Rice sees his experience from last summer as a plus, but is hesitant to call himself a leader. “I still have a lot of learning to do,” Rice acknowledges, “But I can pass down what I’ve learned to some of the younger guys as I continue to grow myself.” 

Jack Austin, a returning Kingsmen catcher from USC-Upstate, concurs with Rice regarding the leadership question. “Just really see what the team needs,” the rising sophomore added, “If they need me to be there, I definitely could see that.”

For this year’s Kingsmen team, growth will be a common theme. Each player will have the opportunity to develop their game on the diamond while also growing in their faith throughout the team’s travels. For Justin Stewart, though, it’s one more summer to have fun playing the game he loves.

Stewart, who finished his playing career at California University of Pennsylvania this year, reflected on his time on the field. “It’s the game of baseball,” the utility man started, “That’s one thing I’ve learned from my freshman year at Cal U. Right now, I can look back and say that I took stuff way too seriously and let that get to my head. Playing now, you just gotta have fun with it. If you have fun with it, then good things are going to happen.”

Baseball, travel, and missionary work. Sounds like a fun summer for the Kingsmen where good things are sure to happen.

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