By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
For Larry Keeker, the decision to take up the challenge of running the McNary High School baseball program was all about family.
“Our program is a real family and, after nearly 60 years, it has members throughout the nation,” said Keeker.
Keeker was tapped as head coach of the varsity baseball team last week. He succeeds Craig Nicholas who coached the team from 1999-2010. Keeker’s teaching and coaching career spans more than 20 years and programs at North Salem High School and McNary. He started as the junior varsity coach in the Celtic program before moving to the freshman team. He became an assistant varsity coach three seasons ago. He is also an assistant coach for Celts’ varsity basketball team.
While Keeker expects a competitive season out of the varsity baseball team next spring, he doesn’t expect to be making many changes in the immediate future. He will need to flesh out his coaching staff to replace Chad Booth, another assistant baseball coach who stepped down when Nicholas opted for retirement, and fill his now-vacant post.
“After that the first order of business will be sitting down with the coaching staff and going over the game plan from offense to defense to philosophy to see where improvements can be made,” Keeker said.
He’ll be relying on his staff and colleagues to build on the knowledge imparted by Nicholas and former varsity basketball coach Jim Litchfield as he finds his own method of building the program.
Among the great lessons he hopes to impart on his athletes is one he picked up from Nicholas: students can be taught the game of baseball, but you can’t compromise what’s in their hearts. Put another way, love of the game will shine through every time.
Keeker was a part of the coaching team that led the Celts to the state title in 2009. McNary captured the state title on two other occasions, 1989 and 1992, the most state titles of any Celtic athletic program. He is the fourth head coach of the varsity baseball team in the school’s history.
Vic Backlund coached McNary from 1966 to 1975 and from 1979 to 1998, Mike Jesperson from 1976-78, and Nicholas from 1999-2010.
Keeker, who grew up playing in Keizer Little League and took to the field for Backlund in 1981-82, is a homegrown talent and respectful of the program’s rich history.
“It’s a challenge and a privilege to continue the tradition of McNary baseball, but at the end of the day it’s about putting the best team on the field and a team that represents the school and the Keizer community,” Keeker said.
Keeker lives in Keizer with his wife, Angie, a teacher at Whitaker Middle School, and daughter, Taylor, a senior at McNary. His son Jordan is attending and playing baseball for Linn-Benton Community College.