YOUTH BASEBALL: Gold Country Baseball Academy continues to develop ball players with character | TheUnion.com

YOUTH BASEBALL: Gold Country Baseball Academy continues to develop ball players with character

When the Gold Country Baseball Academy started up in 2015 it was a novel idea.

It offered a place in Nevada County where young ball players could hone their skills on the diamond when Little League was in its offseason.

In a little more than two years, the academy has become a haven for nearly 100 ball players who are learning how to handle themselves with dignity and respect, both on and off the field.

A good example of the academy's impact is its 14U team, which recently wrapped up its third fall season and boasts several players that have been with the organization since its inception.

"Their ability to play together and their character is the best I've ever seen out of any team," said head coach Russell Brackett, who has been with the academy since the beginning. "The most important thing to me and the thing I'm most proud of is people come up to me — countless umpires, parents from other teams and other coaches — and they all say our kids are super respectful. We get that almost every single tournament."

While Brackett puts a large emphasis on playing the game with the utmost sportsmanship rather than focusing on wins and losses, the Bears have won their share of tournaments this fall.

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In the academy's first year, they had five tournament teams across five age groups. They combined for two tournament championship appearances in that first season. In this most recent fall season, the Bears also had five tournament teams which combined for 17 tourney title game appearances and eight tourney championships.

Gold Country 14U first baseman and pitcher Luke Barrieau, who has been with the program since 2015, attributes the team's success to simply believing in his coaches and the trust that has been fostered among teammates.

"We all know each other and trust each other completely, and we trust Russ," Barrieau said. "(Brackett) sets a really good example. Talks us through it all, makes sure our heads are in it and makes sure we are always respectful toward other teams, coaches and umpires. He knows how to play baseball the right way and he's taught us the same thing.

"It's been a huge learning experience and I've definitely grown as a baseball player and a young man. It's been awesome."

Fellow 14U teammate Nate Becker, an outfielder who has also been with the Bears since 2015, said it's as simple as buying into the process.

"(Brackett) has taught us to be respectful and to think," said Becker. "Buy into the process, play together and have fun."

Colby Lunsford, another 14U Bears player, joined Gold Country Baseball Academy two seasons ago after having played with several other club teams.

"I went to one of their tournaments, and I watched them come back from like an 11-3 deficit and I thought, 'man these guys are all in. They love each other, they are all brothers.'"

Lunsford joined the Bears shortly after.

"It's like a big family," Lunsford said. "Everybody knows everybody. It's just so much better. I really enjoy it. It's great coaching, great people. They are all my best friends. They always encourage me to do better, do my best, work hard every day and get better every day."

The 14U team found great success this past fall, going 20-9 overall and winning several tournaments, including a championship in their final tourney of the year.

The rest of the Bears teams have also been bringing home hardware.

The 13U Bears most recently won the Edge of Darkness tourney in Galt in November, and 10U Bears grabbed the Toys for Tots tourney title in Sacramento in early December.

In just three fall seasons, the Gold Country Bears have gone from getting mercy-ruled in multiple games at tourneys to being a force to reckon with at all levels and doing so with a high level of sportsmanship and class.

Through it all, and as the Gold Country Bears continue to rise in prominence, one thing has become very clear to Brackett.

"Baseball is not dead," he said. "These kids love baseball and they love to be little dirtbags. That's the biggest thing for me. Baseball is not dead. It's alive and well in our community."

To learn more about the Gold Country Baseball Academy visit https://goldcountrybears.com.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.