Twenty-six years ago, head coach Harold Pyatte led the Everett Merchants to a National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series championship.
Over the next two weeks, Pyatte and his 2014 ballclub will try again.
The Merchants finished second this season in the Pacific International League, but Pyatte saw enough from his squad — particularly during some late-season tournaments — to believe they have a chance to make a run at another national title.
“I’m always confident,” said Pyatte, who is in his 43rd season with the team. “We have the mindset that we can win it or else we wouldn’t be going. Now whether we win it or not, in baseball that always depends on the bounce of the ball. But we’re going to give it a good shot.”
At the World Series, he vowed, “we’re going to compete every day, and I think we’re going to do very well.”
The tournament, which opens today and continues though Aug. 9, will be held at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, Kan., which is where Everett won its previous national championship in 1988. It is also where Pyatte was inducted into the NBC Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Merchants, 24-12 this season, are one of 16 teams in Wichita this week, with all of them comprised largely of college players along with a few ex-pros. The tournament will use a double-elimination format.
Pyatte’s optimism is based largely on his team’s ability to score. The Merchants have several players in the regular lineup who are hitting .300 or better this season, led by outfielder John Doering, who is batting .380 with a team-best 29 runs scored; and by first baseman/outfielder/pitcher Jake Levin, who has a .358 average with 43 hits, 11 doubles, three home runs and 33 RBI, the latter four all team highs.
The Merchants “mesh really well together,” said Levin, a Redmond High School graduate who plays at Central Washington University. “Every day it can be someone different who’s stepping up and making the big play and getting the big hit.”
Pyatte has split the innings evenly among his pitching staff with 14 different hurlers getting starts, 13 getting wins, and 11 totaling between 15 and 32 innings pitched. Cooper Jansen, formerly of Everett Community College, has a 4-0 record with a 0.96 ERA.
“We’ve got a very good team,” Pyatte said. “We’re going to hit, play defense, and we’re going to run and put pressure on the other teams. Our pitching is a little questionable for us. … I think our pitching will take us as far as we can go.”
The Merchants will be one of two PIL teams in Wichita. The other is the Seattle Studs, who earned their spot this year as the defending NBC World Series champions. Because the Studs received an automatic berth, the PIL got a second spot at the World Series, which went to the Merchants.
The team has been busily raising money for the trip, Pyatte said, with sponsors contributing additional money to cover some of the team’s travel costs of approximately $30,000. “The rest we’re just piece-mealing together,” he said. “My wife and I kicked in quite a bit of money to finish off the air fare.”
Like Pyatte, Everett’s players are both excited and optimistic about the opportunity in Wichita. And with a handful of wins against Seattle already this season, they know a championship is a realistic goal.
“It gives us a good level of confidence knowing that we’ve already beaten the (defending) champions of the NBC World Series three or four times this summer,” said catcher/first baseman Mark Medalia, a graduate of Anacortes High School who will play next season at Lewis and Clark State. “Taking this team to nationals, it’s a pretty special opportunity for us and it should be pretty exciting.”
“We play a good brand of baseball,” Levin agreed. “We play the game well, so I’m really excited to take this team to nationals and see what we can do. It’s going to be a big stage, and if we play the kind of baseball we’re capable of I think we’ve got a really good chance.”