By Bill Kossen / Seattle Times staff
When he was 13, Bill Kossen tried out for a baseball team and had high hopes of making it. But he struck out looking at three pitches in his only at bat and made a throwing error on the only ball that came to him. He then got cut and never tried out again. ”But I don’t dwell on it,” he says year after year. “I’ve moved on.”
Want to take yourself out to a ballgame where there is plenty of good action, you can sit in the front row, your appearance is appreciated and it’s free?
Batter up and head on out to a high-school baseball game. These guys are really good and hardly anyone outside of their coaches, parents, friends and occasional fans that drop by probably know it.
It might have something to do with Seattle’s often-rainy, cold, windy spring weather that can play havoc with schedules and fan comfort, and because the games start right after school when many people who would like to watch them can’t because of work or whatever.
But thanks to the use of synthetic turf and in some cases synthetic dirt, the weather isn’t as big a factor as it used to be. That leaves you with one less good excuse.
So let me tell you what you’re missing. I recently went to a high-school baseball game, the first I’ve seen since I was in high school and I’m sure not going to wait that long again to see another.
It was the Garfield-Eastlake game. I probably wouldn’t have gone if not for running into Garfield’s varsity baseball coach, Chris Moedritzer, at basketball and football games, where he would be selling baseball caps to raise money and drum up interest in his team.
I’d buy a cap, and he’d say thanks and encourage me to come out and watch a game. Sure, I’d reply, thinking I might drop by some time for an inning or two, figuring he would quickly forget about me and my halfhearted promise.
Surprise. When he saw me at the game, he recognized me right away and said hi. And why wouldn’t he? I was one of only four fans in the Garfield bleachers at the beginning of the game. Kind of stood out in that crowd. (More showed up later, while the Eastlake Wolves arrived at Garfield Park with more than a dozen fans.)
So I sat down next to Tony Barker, a former high-school and college baseball player from Minnesota. Barker, a counselor at YouthCare in Seattle, told me that he lives in the neighborhood and likes to drop by and catch a game from time to time.
Several Garfield parents sat at a table behind the bleachers, keeping score, operating the PA system and even handing out game programs that included a short story on the upcoming game and season, plus player bios.
A reggae song boomed out of the PA speakers as the Bulldogs took infield practice before the first pitch. A warm breeze and short shots of sun broke through the clouds on a day that began with torrential rain.
What a great day for baseball, I thought. Let’s play one. The song ended, and it was game time.
“Welcome Garfield baseball fans!” came the greeting from announcer Brian Chase, whose son Alex is on the team. “Attendance today will rival the Mariners last night.”
That got a big laugh from the crowd, which was even smaller than the M’s record-breaking sparse turnout the night before. And that turned out to be a big bonus for fans. We could hear everything being said on the field. Not only the ump crying out balls and strikes and the usual chatter among ballplayers, but we also could hear the players muttering about calls that didn’t go their way and hear their teammates trying to calm them down so they wouldn’t be tossed out of the game.
How fun. Here we were, sitting for free in seats so close to the field they could cost more than $1,000 if they were in the new Yankee Stadium. Instead we were at ”Historic Garfield Park” as it said on the new scoreboard.
This was the same field where many, many years ago (long before I was born) a family legend was born. My grandfather, who lived across the street, was watching a game when a baseball bat the size of a small log slipped out of a batter’s hand and somehow ended up in Grandpa’s hands. He was a tough, strong old dude who worked as a blacksmith when he was younger, so I’d like to think he just put up his hand and grabbed that big bat out of the air as effortlessly as that guy who caught a foul ball in his beer cup the other night at the M’s game.
I have that old bat, a Spalding B1 that looks like something Babe Ruth might have used, except that a big chunk of it down by the nub was sawed off so we could swing it as kids. I took it to the game to see if it could work some magic. It did.
The first three innings was a classic pitchers’ duel between Eastlake’s Connor Graham and Garfield’s Justin Arkills-McLain, with both teams playing solid defense that rivaled what you would see at Safeco. The infielders smoothly turned double plays and snared hot line drives, outfielders chased down long fly balls and the pitchers hummed along with good control and fastballs that might have broken 80 mph. It all added up to some exciting, well-played baseball.
“I’m impressed with the fundamentals,” Barker told me more than once.
Then, in the bottom of the third, Hayes Gorecki came to the plate, wearing the Garfield purple and white.
“Let’s go, Purple Hayes!” someone yelled. The clever reference to the song by Garfield’s Jimi Hendrix was followed by Gorecki getting on base and eventually coming around to score.
That however, seemed to wake up Eastlake’s offense, too. The visitors pounded out eight hits and took advantage of a few Garfield errors on their way to a 6-1 KingCo 4A victory, although the game seemed much closer and more exciting than the score would indicate. Coach Moedritzer was gracious in defeat, praising the Eastlake pitcher.
“He was effective in that when we did hit it hard, it was always right at someone,” Garfield’s coach said. “He pitched a great game against us.”
And it was a great game. Instead of only sticking around for an inning or two, I stayed for the entire game. It was over too soon.
Let’s play two!
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