College Athlete of the Week: Mike Gange

Hometown: Marysville (Marysville-Pilchuck High School)

What he did: Hit .429 (3-for-7) with an RBI and two runs scored in a four-game sweep of Montana State Billings. Gange finished the regular season as the Wolves’ fifth-leading hitter (.338) while helping lead WOU to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title and a 29-3 record in conference games. The Wolves (40-9) are ranked 14th in the nation in the latest Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division II poll.

What’s next: Gange and the Wolves host the NCAA Division II West Region tournament after finishing atop the region poll. WOU, which has won 14 of its past 15 games and went 16-0 at home this season, was scheduled to play Chico State on Thursday night.

Two-minute drill

Sounds like this is a pretty big week for Western Oregon baseball.

Yeah, absolutely. We locked down that No. 1 seed out of the West Region, and that’s pretty tough out of our league because, unfortunately, it doesn’t get a lot of respect. We have to battle with the California league (the California Collegiate Athletic Association). We had to go down there and take care of business in the preseason to earn some respect. We played some teams like Sonoma State, who won the national title last year, and we beat them four out of five.

What does it mean to the team that you’ll be hosting the NCAA Division II West Regional?

We were undefeated at home this year. You start seeing it around school, that’s the biggest thing. Western Oregon baseball has not been the most credited. I’m biased, obviously, but the football team gets a lot of credit for being bad. (Laughs) It’s nice having home-field advantage. We’re actually playing at a minor-league park (Volcano Stadium, home of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes) because we don’t have lights.

What do you guys have to do to win this thing and move on to the NCAAs?

We’ve got to win three, and it’s double elimination. We’ve got the table set, that’s for sure. But we’ve got some pretty good teams coming in. We play Chico State in the first round, and they’re always good. They’ve already won a couple national titles. And UC San Diego is coming here and then Dixie State is the other team. The California League (the CCAA) is not a breeze, by any means. We’ll see some pretty good arms.

Let me run a few numbers at you. You guys have won six in a row, 14 of 15, and 24 of 26. That takes you to 24-2 since the last weekend in March — and in 12 of those wins, you’ve scored double-digit runs. Is there any chance you don’t come out of this tourney on top?

I’ve always been told: When it gets to the playoffs, you don’t change anything, and the team that’s hot is the one that goes. Those numbers you just rattled off, we’re hot. It’s hard to think the what-if game, but (the Wolves’ batting order is deep) one through nine, our starting pitching is full of seniors, we have experience after playing in the regional last year in San Diego. I can tell you none of us are thinking that way. We’re planning on heading out Tuesday to Cary, North Carolina (for the NCAA round of eight). That’s our goal.

OK, before people up here get too excited about Western Oregon baseball, I should let them know one fact. Am I to understand that you’re a Yankees fan?

I am. I am a Yankees fan.

How did that happen?

My dad is actually from New York. He raised me as a Yankee fan.

Up here in Seattle, people might view that as child abuse.

(Laughs) You know, we get some guff on it. But when they’re at Safeco, we’re out there cheering them on. I’ll stand up and clap when A-Rod comes up. And we hear it. Yeah. I’m a big Derek Jeter fan. WWJD: “What Would Jeter Do?” That’s something we live by.

And you list your baseball hero, in addition to Jeter, as Pete Rose. Aren’t you a bit young to be a Pete Rose fan?

I actually read his biography. I’ve heard some stories about baseball books of the past. The way the guy played … now, if he played it for a certain incentive, a betting scandal, who knows. Just how hard he played. I heard a story where Pete Rose’s dad came to a game, and (Rose) grounded out to short, lollygagged to first, and his dad said: “I’ll never come to another game if you pull that again.” I just respect that. I guess he didn’t respect the game outside of the game, with the betting or whatever, but it was the way he played: hard-nosed, do-anything-to-win.

Should he be in the Hall of Fame?

I think so. I do. If I had a vote, I’d put him in. I’d put (Barry) Bonds in. I grew up in a big part of the Bonds era. And (Mark) McGwire. Bonds was like (Ken) Griffey, a guy I looked up to. I’m 22 now, so I’ve got a little age underneath me. I’ve got a little bit of that veteran wherewithal.

You’re listed at 5-foot-6, 160 pounds. Shouldn’t your heroes be Dustin Pedroia and David Eckstein?

Actually, Pedroia, I can’t like him — as a Yankee fan. If he was wearing pinstripes, I could do it. Of course, I look up to Eckstein and Pedroia. They’re grinders. They give us little guys a name.

I’m guessing by your statistics that you play the game a little like Charlie Hustle, like Pete Rose did. You hit .338 this season, you led the team in sacrifice hits, and you went 4-for-4 on steals. How would you describe yourself as a player?

I would say hard-nosed and for the team. I’m a team player. It’s kind of cliché, but it’s what I do. Anything to win. I’m aware I’m not going to hit any balls out of the yard. I hit two (home runs) this year, and those were my first two ever. I was raised by pretty good baseball guys in the Everett area, and they said: “It’s not OK to not be running balls out.” I accepted that pretty early. So that’s how I play.

You transferred from Everett Community College. How different is your life now that you’re away from home and playing NCAA baseball?

At Everett, coach (Levi) Lacey and the staff do a good job of preparing you, especially mentally. Physically — sure, guys are stronger here, we’re older. But they developed us and got us ready for this. It’s our goal at the community college level to get a scholarship to better university. And they made sure we were ready.

Off the field, what’s the biggest change?

Classes, probably. I’m doing fine. I actually made dean’s list last quarter. But it’s the balancing. Traveling’s huge. It’s a big difference from driving to Shoreline or Bellevue. We go to California. We just got back from a 19-hour bus ride to Montana.

What happens on that bus ride?

Some good baseball stories. Good talk. Good movies. A lot of chewing seeds.

Have you got a favorite movie from those rides?

We watched “Bull Durham” recently. That’s always a classic.

— Scott M. Johnson, Herald writer

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