Former big leaguer now coaches small ball

  • Thu Apr 12th, 2012 7:42pm
  • News

By Juie Mhulstein Herald Columnist

Bill Tsoukalas coaches baseball. Don’t ask for his team’s win-loss record. Winning isn’t what matters.

“Everybody bats, everybody plays in the field. It’s an hour game. It’s perfect,” the 64-year-old Tsoukalas said.

With the Seattle Mariners playing their home opener tonight, Tsoukalas took a little time to chat about America’s pastime. Baseball is something the executive director of Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County knows plenty about.

His current coaching gig started two years ago. That’s when Tsoukalas signed up to head his grandson’s T-ball team at the Arlington Boys &Girls Club. Andrew Tsoukalas was 5 at the time.

Tsoukalas and his grandson have moved on to coach-pitch baseball at the Arlington club.

“I’m following Andrew,” Tsoukalas said. “He decided I’m good enough.”

How good?

Tsoukalas was such a fine ballplayer that in 1965 he was included in Major League Baseball’s first-ever draft. He graduated from Seattle’s Lincoln High School that year, and his team had just won the Seattle Metro League championship.

Although he was drafted in 1965 by the Houston Astros and in 1966 was again in the Major League draft after a year at Everett Junior College, Tsoukalas decided to stick with his education.

“I’m glad I did,” said Tsoukalas, who now lives in Everett. “Everybody has the dream of playing and being a millionaire. For some reason, my gut told me education was important.”

A left-handed pitcher and first baseman, Tsoukalas’ college baseball career was stellar. The Trojans of what is now Everett Community College won the Washington Athletic Association of Community Colleges championship in 1966, and haven’t won a state title since.

After that winning season in Everett, Tsoukalas transferred to Seattle University. He played baseball there three years, and is now in the Athletic Hall of Fame at both EvCC and Seattle U.

With a college degree in education, he still had a shot at the big leagues. He was drafted in 1969 by the Cleveland Indians. He ended up signing a contract with the Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliates. He made it to AAA, the highest level of minor league play, but was bedeviled by a shoulder injury.

“I couldn’t be competitive at that high level,” Tsoukalas said.

His professional playing career ended in the mid-1970s with the Seattle Rainiers, a Northwest League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. He also coached professionally with the Rainiers. That era ended when the Mariners made Seattle a Major League city again with the first game in the Kingdome on April 6, 1977.

Tsoukalas could have signed another minor league contract, but turned it down.

“We were starting a family. And I had been through five years of minor league baseball — the traveling and moving three times a year,” he said.

Settled in the Puget Sound area, he was able to return to Seattle U to earn a master’s degree in education and become an assistant baseball coach there. His compensation was free tuition.

The oldest of 10 children, Tsoukalas said his parents didn’t go to college. He had an uncle who played baseball at the University of Washington. “He was the one I remember first playing catch with. I think seeing him play in college gave me that goal,” Tsoukalas said.

Once a professional ballplayer and coach, he now coaches little kids. He is not only the top executive with Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, he is a grandparent volunteer.

Tsoukalas does make it down to Safeco Field to catch the Mariners. It’s been a few years, though, since he has been to Arizona for the team’s spring training.

“This is my spring training,” he said of his grandson’s team. “It really kind of reconnected me to the game. It’s a different perspective as a grandparent.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.