By Larry Henry Special to The Herald
EVERETT — When certain merchants see Harold Pyatte walk into their businesses this time of year, they immediately respond with a standard greeting: “You’re going to the World Series, aren’t you?”
And the coach of the Everett Merchants semi-pro baseball team responds with his standard greeting: “Yeah.”
Fortunately for the business owners, it doesn’t happen that often. Pyatte’s visit is to solicit donations for the trip back to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
The local business people have responded well to the Merchants. “It’s amazing to me that in this economy people can still dig deep down for a local non-profit organization,” Pyatte said.
If the truth be known — and he won’t admit to it — Pyatte has probably dug deeply into his own pocket to fund the team over the 38 years he has been the coach.
This will be the Merchants’ fifth trip to the World Series, the first since 2001, when they finished 17th. The first time they got there was 1988, and what a magical journey it was. Unknown and unheralded, the Merchants shocked everyone by winning the title.
Now they’re going again. They’ll head for the Heartlands on July 30 and play their first game either on Aug. 1 or 2, against a team yet to be determined.
It’s a double-elimination tournament with 30-plus teams from around the country, including two from the Puget Sound region: the Merchants and the Seattle Studs.
It’s a costly endeavor. Airfare alone for the 26-person Merchants party, which includes 24 players and two coaches, costs $16,900. (Pyatte pays his own fare.) Then there’s food, lodging (four players to a room to economize) and transportation once they arrive in Wichita. The tally on that depends on how long they’re there.
If a team goes all the way to the finals, you’re talking two weeks — the tournament runs from July 30 to Aug.13 — and a lot of money. Of course, if it wins the tournament, the top prize of $18,000 helps defray expenses.
The second place team gets $16,000. Every team takes home some money. Go two-and-out and you get $100, which might buy you a sack of hamburgers for your squad.
Tournament Director Jerry Taylor estimates that it costs a team with 28 players — the maximum number allowed — and two coaches at least $1,000 a day. “And that’s probably very lenient,” he said.
Pyatte got a $10,000 donation from a former Merchants player and his business partner. “That took a chunk out of that $16,000,” Pyatte noted.
Even if they were to win the tournament, the Merchants would likely lose money. That’s life in semi-pro baseball.
All the players have to concern themselves with is performing. And the tournament offers a great opportunity to showcase their talents in front of Major League scouts. “We have kids signed each summer,” Taylor said.
When Everett won the title in ‘88, Merchants outfielder O. Sobottka signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after the final game.
A number of current Major Leaguers played in this tournament, including Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Tim Lincecum, Michael Young, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. As Taylor observed, the NBC all-time roster is a “Major League Who’s Who.”
Pyatte will remind his players that the tournament “is probably the best baseball experience you’re ever going to have. For many of you, it’ll be the pinnacle of your career, and for some, it’ll be a stepping stone to pro ball.”
Some of the players he’ll deliver that message to will be new to the team. Several guys who have been with the team all season won’t be making the trip for various reasons: jobs, classes, final exams, vacations.
Second baseman Logan Brumley will be touring the Middle East with a Christian group instructing kids on how to play baseball. Pitcher Bradley Clapp recently landed a job in Portland.
“They’re impossible situations that they can’t get out of,” Pyatte said.
What it has forced him to do is go out and find replacement players and he has already signed a couple of infielders — he also lost starting shortstop Dan Schmidt — and a former minor league pitcher. Pyatte knows a lot of coaches who can recommend players and he also makes mental notes of players he sees during the summer.
Shortstop Nick Latta, who attends Seattle University, caught the coach’s eye in a tournament in British Columbia. “He made a play deep in the hole and got the guy by a step,” Pyatte said. “I turned to my coach, Shean Nasin, and said, ‘That kid’s good.”
That kid will be the starting shortstop in Wichita.