Before Tuesday afternoon's practice, Brad Stoll lounged in the Ice Field dugout, the setting he aspired to reach as a high school senior.
Stoll, a second and third baseman, did not make that Lawrence High baseball team, which featured 13 future junior college and college players.
"I was brutal," Stoll said. "You had to have a niche to be on that team. I couldn't run, I couldn't throw and I couldn't hit."
Fast forward 17 years, and the LHS baseball coach and 1990 graduate has taken his alma mater to the Class 6A state tournament for the first time. It also represents the team's first trip since 2002.
"It's an honor," Stoll said. "But it's definitely not my doing. It's what the guys have done and the coaching staff."
Those guys vividly recall a moment from a spring break trip to Phoenix last year. While taking batting practice, Stoll launched a shot over the left-field fence. He started jogging the bases, declaring how he should have made his LHS team.
"From now on whenever he takes BP," senior Drew Hulse said, "everyone's like, 'How come you can't hit one out?'"
Although he missed an opportunity to don the red stirrups as a teenager, Stoll, who also serves as an adaptive physical education teacher at LHS and other local schools, tried to soak up baseball knowledge at every opportunity.
"I wanted to be involved in the game in some capacity," Stoll said. "So I just started surrounding myself with baseball people."
During the early '90s he coached the summer ball with Mark and Lee Ice, and LHS football coach Dirk Wedd. He learned hitting from the Ices and in-game management from Wedd.
That work during the summer led to his first coaching job and experience at state. As a tender-aged 23-year-old assistant at Topeka Hayden, he helped the eventual 4A state champs defeat a Wellington High School team led by former Detroit Tigers pitcher Nate Cornejo.
The next year Stoll coached the freshman baseball team at Blue Valley Northwest before moving on to Free State High when the school opened in 1997. He coached football under Bob Lisher and baseball under Mike Hill. Stoll praised Hill's organizational skills and intelligence, and despite the rivalry of the city schools, the two head coaches remain close. Since LHS defeated Free State, 8-1, during regionals play Thursday to advance to state, they have talked on the phone multiple times a day. After the 2004 season, Hill wrote a recommendation for Stoll as he pursued the LHS head baseball job.
Stoll also leans on Kansas University coach Ritch Price. LHS assistant Kyle Kilgo played under Price at KU, and Stoll works Price's baseball camps. The Lions have adopted the Jayhawks' aggressive offensive strategy, one facet of the game where Stoll has sought advice from Price.
"I just ask him a question, and he starts talking," Stoll said. "And I write it all down."
Stoll's baseball expertise extends to the major-league level. He worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks as an associate scout in 1996, which led to his current role as a Milwaukee Brewers part-time scout. He has documented Midwestern players for the Brewers, including the New York Mets' Mike Pelfrey and the Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon.
Although Stoll helps the Brewers find talent, working with baseball bird dogs continues to augment his knowledge of the game. When a tournament in Wichita had a three-hour rain delay, Stoll took meticulous notes as he listened to a Toronto Blue Jays and a Los Angeles Dodgers scout discuss the intricacies of hitting.
"It was awesome," he said. "I just sat and just wrote as fast I could. It was really, really beneficial."
Stoll, though, initially learned baseball from his father Dan, who threw batting practice and fed him ground balls.
"He taught me how to love the game," Brad Stoll said.
The father and son travel to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., each year. Dan's office serves as an homage to Roberto Clemente, with loads of memorabilia. Stoll wears No. 21 to honor the Hall of Famer, one of the favorite players of both father and son.
The Stoll family remains a fixture of LHS baseball. His father regularly attends games, even announcing some contests during the River City Baseball Festival. A spectator at games also will see his wife Emili, a former Emporia State basketball star, sitting with sons Jack ("a left-handed-hitting four-year-old") and one-year-old Sammy ("he throws his pacifier with his left hand.")
"I hope they look like their mom and get her athletic ability," Stoll said. "And then we might have a chance."
Although the games resemble family affairs, practices under Stoll take an upbeat tone.
"(He's) a really positive person on and off the yard. He's always high-energy," said LHS senior John Novotny, who has played for three years under Stoll. "But he knows how to get on you when you need it."
The Lions have planned to attend a Kansas City Royals game together tonight. The team also bonded during this year's spring-break tournament in Tulsa, Okla., which included nightly team dinners. But this weekend's excursion to Wichita for state represents a business trip.
"The focus of our season was to win it all, not just to get there," Stoll said. "We can't be satisfied."