Lessons that last a lifetime | TheUnion.com

Lessons that last a lifetime

Bear River baseball returns to diamond with new coach leading the way

Bear River baseball varsity head coach Russell Brackett goes over some base-running strategy with his team during practice on the field this week at Bear River High School.
Photo: Elias Funez

Bear River High School’s new varsity baseball skipper knows that what is taught on the diamond can last a lifetime.

“What’s most important to me is not wins and losses,” said Russell Brackett, 31, who was hired to take over the Bruins varsity baseball program in December. “What’s important to me is: I want kids, once they are done here, whether they play in college or the MLB or they go play slow-pitch softball, I want them to still have the solid work ethic, I want them to know how to be a solid father, a solid husband and a solid person in the workforce.”

Brackett, who played youth baseball through Grass Valley Little League and later for Nevada Union High School, comes into the position after spending five years as an assistant coach at multiple levels in the Miners baseball program and, more recently, three years of being the director of baseball operations for the Gold Country Baseball Academy.

“It’s always kind of been a dream job,” Brackett said of his position with the Bruins. “And, it was just perfect timing.”

Transitioning into the his first varsity head coaching post has been made easier by the fact that many of Bear River’s current players also played for Brackett when he was with Gold Country Baseball Academy.

Bear River head baseball coach Russell Brackett.

“With Russell coming in there’s a lot of excitement, especially with the success we had with him in our younger years,” said senior Nick Baltz. “It feels great to have a connection right from the start and know where he’s coming from and what to expect. … He’s a winner and he loves to compete.”

Fellow Bruin and Gold Country Baseball Academy alumnus Daniel Bamburg added, “I like (Brackett’s) mental game. It’s not all about physical, it’s a lot about the mental side of it, and that’s what wins us the games.”

Brackett, the youngest of five brothers, said he grew up in a household of baseball players, and that’s where the foundation for his love of the game comes from.

“Growing up my dad was my guy. He coached my Little League teams from the age of 10 until I was 16,” said Brackett. “He knew his stuff and he was fun. I took so many things from him, and the biggest thing was how to make the game fun.”

On the diamond, Brackett has a good rapport with his players, holding their attention not by raising his voice, but by treating them with respect and patience.

“It’s not about being a leader for me. It’s about teaching the kids how to lead. I find if you do that, they run with it,” he said, adding “I believe this generation deserves more credit. I just think this generation feeds off of something that’s more approachable.”

Baseball practice is under way across the state, including at Bear River High School where the varsity team is gearing up for its first game of the season.
Photo: Elias Funez


Brackett takes over a rising Bear River program that made the playoffs in 2018 and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game in 2019.

This year’s squad is led by Sacramento State commit Colby Lunsford, a senior who can play anywhere on the field.

“That kid, he’s special,” said Brackett. “He’s not just special because he’s a D-1 athlete. Yeah, he’s fast, he’s strong and he throws hard, but he’s also the best teammate you’ll see in your life. That’s what’s amazing about him. He has this ability to talk to his teammates like a coach, and in a very respectful, understanding way.”

The Bruins have a small roster with just 14 players, but Brackett is confident in his team’s ability and adaptability.

“These kids are all grinders. Every single one of them,” said Brackett. “There’s no sense of them not wanting to be here. They’re always here to learn. We have so many baseball players, not just athletes; these guys are baseball players. These kids understand what it takes, and I think the biggest thing people will see is these kids care for each other.”

The Bruins got the go-ahead to resume normal practices this week and they’ve been hard at work since Monday, shaking off any rust and looking to make up for lost time.

“It’s awesome to be back after getting cut short last year. We had high hopes, just to have it cut a week in,” said Baltz. “It feels good to see these guys and build a relationship on the field.”

Baltz was on the team a season ago when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all high school sports, ending the Bruins season after just a handful of games.

“We were eyeing a run at a section title, we had a lot of returning guys and the chemistry was there,” said Baltz of the 2020 season. “It was a shock. We got five games in and were feeling good. Then it all happened, and it hurt.”

New Bear River varsity baseball head coach Russell Brackett talks to his team during practice Thursday at Bear River High School.
Photo: Elias Funez

Brackett said his own experiences as a player have given him some insight into what his players had to go through.

“I know what it’s like to have things like baseball taken away,” said Brackett. “At the end of the day, at some point we all play our last game. We’re just never told when. It could be in high school, it could be in Little League, it could be in the MLB, and these kids had something taken way from them. I want to make sure they have the best opportunity possible to have their best experience.”


There won’t be any playoffs this season, but the Bruins do have a 21-game schedule that features several intriguing matchups, including contests with Nevada Union, Forest Lake Christian, Truckee and rival Colfax.

Bear River’s first game is scheduled for March 30 at Western Sierra. The Bruins first home game is against Wheatland, April 2. The battle for district bragging rights between the Bruins and Miners will be a three-game set scheduled for the first week of May.

“We will be successful by buying into the process,” Brackett said. “Not by playing for themselves, not by playing for stats, but by playing for each other, playing for the guy next to you.”

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com.


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