SM BEACH — It may be the off-season, but Santa Monica baseball isn’t taking a break.
Led by new coach Kurt Schwengel, Samohi’s ball players have been busy with somewhat non-baseball-related activities.
At least once a week, the boys can be found at Santa Monica Beach playing volleyball or running sprints. Schwengel gets a kick out of it, he knows that some of his players don’t even realize that they are training for the upcoming season. They’re just having fun.
“That deep sand kicks your butt,” Schwengel said. “They’re running 3 miles a day on sand. To me, that’s like 5 miles.”
And when they’re not on the sand or back on campus practicing, the Vikings have been adding fundraising to their regimen.
Their primary fundraising project lately has been the Santa Monica 5000, a series of races that has come to the city by the sea for seven straight years.
Some of the proceeds from the popular running event go to support the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a nonprofit tasked with raising money for local public schools. It was enough to convince Schwengel to get his players involved.
“I feel that this particular race, the SM 5000, is a perfect community-wide event because anybody can participate,” Linda Greenberg-Gross, executive director of the foundation, told the Daily Press in advance of last year’s SM 5000. “Either way, you are helping raise funds for vital athletic programs and at the same time building spirit and cohesion through the community.”
Not only are they raising money for the event, they’re running in it, too.
Schwengel and Co. will be wearing their Samohi jerseys as they take part in Sunday’s races.
For Schwengel, it’s as much about raising much-needed money as it is about camaraderie.
“It gives the guys something to reach for,” he said. “I see it bringing them together as a team.”
Whatever it’s doing, it’s working. The team set $18,000 as their goal for the SM 5000 and have raised $16,000 as of Thursday.
Despite taking over the team just this year, Schwengel inherits a program that historically has been one of the most successful in seeking donations. They’ve raised as much as $40,000 in a school year recently with much of that money going toward uniforms, facility improvements and maintaining the grass on their field.
Another factor behind Schwengel’s eagerness to mix things up is retaining players.
There have been a number of talented local players who have opted to play for prominent private schools instead of staying home. Lucas Giolito, who was picked in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft this year out of Harvard-Westlake, is a perfect example.
Giolito played his youth ball with Santa Monica Little League, but succumbed to the lure of Harvard-Westlake’s reputation for turning out star athletes.
That’s exactly the kind of thing Schwengel wants to avoid as he tries to make his program into a powerhouse.
“As far as I can tell they love it,” Schwengel said of his players’ reaction to the new program. “These are things other schools can’t offer the kids.”