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Matt’s Minions: Brandes coaches T-ball for senior project

Spends summer vacation working and playing baseball, soccer

Matt’s Minions T-ball team Coach Matt Brandes shows Logan McDermott where to place his hands on the bat. (Provided photo — Alicia Brandes)

LAKE PLACID — Oh the energy of youth, and during a pandemic nonetheless.

Matt Brandes, 17, worked part time at Stewart’s Shops this summer and played on two baseball teams and one soccer team. Plus he finished his Lake Placid High School senior project — before entering his senior year — by coaching a T-ball team: Matt’s Minions.

“I had a great time,” Brandes said, then offered advice for others who want to try coaching for the first time. “One thing I’d say is I would get a good mentor because my parents helped me out quite a bit with it. A shout out to them.”

Brandes is the youngest of four children, and he comes from a sports family. His brothers Colin and Alex both played baseball, and his sister Haley played softball. His mother Alicia, a pre-K-4 teacher at St. Agnes School, has coached soccer for young children, and his father Brian, a computer technology teacher at the Lake Placid Middle-High School, is the coach of the varsity baseball team and president of the Lake Placid Youth Athletic Association.

Maybe it was pent-up energy from the coronavirus lockdown, or maybe it’s classic Matt Brandes. Either way, when it comes to explaining “How I spent my summer vacation,” he has no shortage of experiences to share.

Brandes — a catcher for the LPHS Blue Bombers baseball team — was not able to play this spring due to the pandemic, but he didn’t stay inside for long.

“There was a lot of nothing for about a month once COVID shut down, but then my buddy Jesse Izzo, my old teammate, dragged me out to the field,” Brandes said.

Izzo — a sophomore on the Franciscan University of Steubenville baseball team — wanted to get in shape for the summer baseball season. So he and Brandes spent a few days a week during the spring throwing the baseball around and having batting practice.

“He pitched to me,” Brandes said. “He’s a pitcher, and I’m a catcher.”

They were both on the Clinton County Mariners team, and they joined the Adirondack Lightning U20 squad midway through the summer after an invitation from Coach Dale Hayes.

“We kind of jumped on that opportunity to get more baseball in,” said Brandes, who played second base and outfield and was a backup catcher on the Mariners. He also pitched this summer.

On Aug. 14, his mother — a professional photographer — posted photos on her Facebook page of Brandes coaching the Minions while wearing a yellow Lightning uniform at the Jim Kordziel Fields.

“Game night: Warming up with a Minions game and then two fields over for a Lightning game,” Alicia wrote. “Mattie got to pitch an inning for the first time in over a year. He walked the first batter, hit the next, and then settled down to retire the side with a strikeout, a pop-out, and a comebacker to end the inning.”

The idea for the T-ball team came from Brandes’ mother, who also suggested the name Matt’s Minion’s — inspired by the “Despicable Me” and “Minions” movies. The logo for the uniforms — with a Minion character holding a baseball bat — was designed by Kirsten Armstrong.

“They were struggling to find a head coach so my mom told me, ‘Maybe you should do this for your senior project,'” Brandes said. “With all the experience she’s had coaching little kids (soccer) and my dad being involved with the Lake Placid Youth Athletic Association, I just thought it would be a good idea to get it out of the way this summer. … I know if I didn’t do it now, I’d have to get something together the last minute, so it feels really good to get it done.”

The T-ball team consisted of about 16 players between the ages of 4 and 6, with the 4-year-olds only participating in practices. The 5- and 6-year-olds played inner-squad scrimmages.

Brandes did everything, from scheduling and holding practices to emailing parents and getting the equipment ready.

Senior projects are usually designed to help the community in some way that speaks from the heart of a student, which this did. They are also meant to teach students some real-life skills and possibly lead a transformation of some kind, which this did.

“I learned how to work with children,” Brandes said. “I was not good at talking to children before, but it’s a little easier now. I learned how to organize better with all the stuff I had to keep track of, equipment, all that.”

He said his mother helped him with tips on how to communicate with young children.

Brandes also plays Blue Bombers basketball, but right now he’s concentrating on playing varsity soccer this fall, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the go-ahead for high school sports teams to begin playing on Sept. 21. Brandes kept up his soccer skills this summer by playing on the Adirondack Freeze Football Club.

“I think I’m ready to go back to school,” he said. “It will be good to see all my friends. I haven’t seen them in like half a year.”

As for life after high school, Brandes doesn’t know what he’ll study, but he does know he wants to go to a junior college and play either soccer or baseball, and then try out for a Division III school.

Asked about playing baseball during his senior year, Brandes sounded like his dad telling Lake Placid News Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter about the team’s prospects for the newspaper’s spring sports preview.

“We’re going to have a young team,” he said, “so if we can get two or three wins here and there, that would be great.”

He’s a natural.