At a recent practice, regional high school baseball coach Kyle Crossland paced up and down the third base line. His arms were folded and a bag of sunflower seeds stuck out from his pocket. Mr. Crossland said he always has a bag on hand as an extra incentive for players to get big hits and round the bases.

“Sunflower seeds are a part of baseball. I tell them that if they reach third base, they get a handful of sunflower seeds.”

This is Mr. Crossland’s first year as head coach. Already the team has racked up three blowout wins over Cape and Islands league opponents. Though they’ve struggled in non-league games, Mr. Crossland, 36, said he’s pleased with how his players are responding to his mind over matter mentality.

“The biggest thing I try to stress to these guys and what I base my baseball philosophy around is mental toughness. I tell them right away that everyone makes physical mistakes...but you have to eliminate the mental mistakes. That’s been key for me in my upbringing.”

The love of baseball started in his Oak Bluffs backyard, Mr. Crossland said, when as a kid he and his brothers would spend their days outside playing games with any ball they could find.

Mr. Crossland looks to pass on his knowledge and passion for the game. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Before the internet, we were outside all day until our parents shouted at us to come back. Playing with my brothers is how I began to love sports,” he said.

His father and grandfather played baseball, and Mr. Crossland gravitated to the sport. He joined the high school team in 1998 as a shortstop under coach Doug Hoehn and JV coach Kyle Fiore, going 18-2 his senior season. Attempts at a college baseball career, though, didn’t pan out as he hoped.

“I tried to walk on out of college and didn’t make the team. I was devastated at the time but it turned out to be a blessing because it put me on a completely different path.”

After obtaining a degree in environmental design from UMass Amherst, Mr. Crossland returned to the Vineyard to help run the family business, Crossland Landscaping. He also coached Babe Ruth baseball on the side. In 2018, he became a horticulture teacher at MVRHS and an assistant coach for the baseball team. When the head coach job opened up, Mr. Crossland said it felt like the perfect chance to give back to the sport that’s given him so much.

“It was just something I felt I would regret if I didn’t apply for the job because of the impact Vineyard baseball has had on my life,” he said. “I’ve had all of these different mentors from the Island community and taken a little bit from each.”

He said that impact is measured in several traits he’s learned from his mentors and tries to impart to his players. He recalled a moment in high school when he showed up late to football practice under coach Don Herman.

“He made me stand up in front of a group to say why I was late and held me accountable,” he said. “I was never late to practice again.”

Mr. Crossland said he’s keenly aware of the impact of his words and though winning is a priority, his goal for the first season is to inspire the same passion in his players for the game that his mentors instilled in him. He said it’s already apparent in the team’s work ethic and growth in each game, and he’s having a blast being a part of it.

“What I can say is it’s nice to have an impact on these kids. And just seeing how hard they work in practice, that’s really motivating and rewarding, to see their improvement as ball players and getting to know them.”