By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — Steve Bainer calls himself “a Prospect guy,” so when the baseball coach saw a posting for the head coaching vacancy at Woodland, he couldn’t act quickly enough.
“When this job became available, this was almost like the golden goose for me,” said Bainer, who enters his first year as Woodland baseball coach after spending the last three years at Derby. “I always wanted to find a way to get back to Prospect. There were so many supportive people behind me.”
Bainer, a 33-year-old social studies teacher at Derby High, played baseball and football at Holy Cross High and has plenty of coaching experience. He had been Derby’s baseball coach since 2016 and is still Derby’s football coach, but he also has Woodland on his resume as a previous assistant coach on Chris Moffo’s football staff.
“I’ve spent some time at Woodland coaching, so I love being part of the community here,” said Bainer, who grew up in Prospect. “I graduated from Holy Cross, but I’ve always been a Prospect guy. Me, my brother and my sister all went through Prospect Little League, and my dad and grandpa both coached baseball here before me.”
Bainer is now the third head coach in Woodland baseball history. Joe Steele started the program in 2002, and longtime assistant coach Mike Kingsley took over in 2011 before resigning this offseason. Steele and Kingsley both led the Hawks to the Class M state semifinals, Steele in 2007 and Kingsley in 2019.
“This was such a cool and unique opportunity to be able to come back and do this,” Bainer said. “Mike did such a good job of building a winning culture here. This team is always competitive. Every year, they’re around the state tournament and the NVL tournament. I want to continue that and I want to be able to put my own mark on this.”
Bainer already appears to have established a strong rapport with his team as the Hawks prepared to take the field for the first time since that loss to Wolcott in the 2019 Class M semifinals.
“So far our whole team has really liked him and been able to learn a lot in the early season,” senior pitcher Cam Heeman said. “Right from Day 1, he has established a winning culture. We love the intensity he brings to every practice, and it shows how much time he has been devoting to our program. Every practice has been extremely organized and everything we do has a great purpose.”
This season figures to be unpredictable around the Naugatuck Valley League and the state. Not only does COVID-19 still threaten to throw a wrench in teams’ schedules — Woodland’s regular season was delayed by a couple of days due to a team-wide quarantine — but coaches barely know their own teams’ potential, let alone the status of others.
“Everybody in the league is in the same situation right now,” Bainer said. “Everyone’s trying to figure out what they have. I’ve talked to some other coaches, and they’re all saying the same thing.”