By Lance Jenkinson
Stuart Clayton is ready to get back to work after being re-appointed as coach of Sunshine Eagles for a second season in Baseball Victoria summer league division 1.
Clayton’s first foray into coaching the Eagles last season was a resounding success, with the team making a rare appearance in the top-flight finals.
The club stalwart wants to build on that foundation and take the team deeper into the finals next summer after a semi-final exit last season.
“Hopefully, next season we can go a couple of steps further than we went last season,” Clayton said. “It was a great experience and the boys now realise what we’ve got to do to get to the next level.
“Hopefully, they all come back ready to put in the hard work in the pre-season.
“I can’t wait to get back out there and coaching the guys and get them up and running.”
Clayton admitted that he was unsure of how his coaching would be received by the players.
Having been involved with the club for a long time, building friendships along the way, Clayton needed to earn the respect of the players as a coach to be able to assert his authority.
“At the start of the season, it was one of those unknowns,” Clayton said. “I had been a mate for so long, but could I go to the next level and be a coach and have that bit of discipline? They all took it on board and it’s fitted right in.”
Sunshine Eagles’ finals experience was bittersweet.
The Eagles performed strongly in game one against Geelong in the best of three semi-finals, only to be let down by some fielding errors.
Their game two loss was a disaster in which they conceded 18 runs.
Clayton believes the Eagles will be better for the experience.
“We hadn’t played finals in division 1 for 28 years,” Clayton said. “It was the great unknown for us. We let ourselves down a little bit in the first final when we made some uncharacteristic errors and gave them that game, but in the second game we well and truly got beat.”
While the straight-sets finals exit was a kick in the guts for Sunshine, it did put it back on the radar of potential big-name recruits. Clayton described the Eagles as a “destination club” for the first time in years.
“Sunshine has always been one of those teams where we’ve been really good off the field, we’re great mates and love a bit of fun,” he said.
“But on the field it was – if we succeeded we did, if we didn’t, it didn’t really matter.
“But I think the last couple of years we’ve come to the level now where we’re really competitive and sides fear playing us.
“It’s great now that we’ve got players ringing us up saying we’d love to come to Sunshine to play because you’re such a great club.
“Over the years, it’s been like, we don’t want to go to Sunshine because you haven’t really been successful [in division 1], but now we’re at a stage where players are seeing we are successful and we’re a destination club.”