By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Thank goodness for teams like this.
Whenever college athletics get a little too slimy, when a region of fans became a little too caught up in the decision making of an 18-year-old basketball player — Terrence Jones, anyone? — it’s nice to get a little glimpse of sports stripped down to the basics.
Here in Astro Gym at Seattle University under harsh neon lights on an old, matted-down AstroTurf surface, the Redhawks baseball team gets to work, preparing for its final games of a rough season. As the ping of aluminum echoes off the concrete walls, players stretch, play catch, and laugh it up at the start of a recent practice, seemingly impervious to the toll a long, losing season should have taken on them by now.
Before this season, Seattle U. hadn’t fielded a varsity baseball team since 1986, and had not had a Division I baseball team since 1980, but as part of the school’s move back to D-I athletics, baseball is back at Jesuit School on Capitol Hill.
And make no mistake, there has been little glory or attention this year for Seattle U. baseball, which fell to 7-33 after two more losses over the weekend.
“We’ve taken our bumps and bruises, and we expected that,” said Seattle U. coach Donny Harrel. “I would have expected a few more wins, and that’s our fault, we haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve able to get some of the close-game wins. That’s the hurdle we’ll have to clear as we move forward.”
The Redhawks are a team without a field, alternating their practices between Bobby Morris Park just north of the school, Lower Woodland Park near Greenlake, Bannerwood Park in Bellevue, which also serves as the Redhawks’ home field for games, or in this building that carries the funk of decades of Seattle athletes sweating on the old turf.
“It’s been crazy,” said first baseman Riley Tompkins, a 2007 graduate of Kamiak High School. “A lot of times we don’t know where we’re going until the day of. That’s tough to deal with, but this group of guys has been able to respond well to it.”
Harrel expects his team to be more than a feel-good story in the very near future. He has known success before, and didn’t take on the challenge of starting a program from scratch thinking he wouldn’t make it work. Harrel, who lives in Brier, was a part of winning programs as an assistant at Oregon State, and most recently Washington, and wants to see the Redhawks become another Northwest power soon.
“We have a great chance to have success based off of the institution,” Harrel said. “I expect as much success here as we’ve had at other areas.”
To have that success, Harrel knows he will have to clear hurdles he didn’t face at Pac-10 schools. Seattle won’t be getting its own baseball field anytime soon; the urban campus simply doesn’t have the space for a field. The school is helping nearby Garfield High School renovate its baseball field, meaning the Redhawks will have another practice field to add to the rotation in the future, but home will still be where the bats and balls are on that particular day. No matter how much better things get, Seattle U. will always be on a different level than its big-conference foes when it comes to facilities and funding.
“It’s huge,” Harrel said of the difference between this program and those he was a part of at OSU and the UW. “We did not have a baseball on campus when we first started this thing. But to watch this thing evolve this year has been exciting. It’s almost like a trial year for us to see what we need to improve on as we move forward.”
While at Washington, Harrel was a part of program made up largely by athletes from the area, and he plans to do the same at Seattle U. Just seven of 27 players on the current roster are from out of state, a trend that will continue, Harrel said. His team also consists of several local community college players, including two players from Everett CC, Arlo Evasick and Mike Malland, a Kamiak graduate, and one from Edmonds CC, starting pitcher Brandon Kizer, a graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck. The list of players with Snohomish County ties also includes pitcher Joey Pulitano, a graduate of Lake Stevens.
And like the rest of their teammates, those players came to Seattle U., knowing they would take their lumps in Season 1.
“It’s been kind of tough, going out and facing a really tough schedule in our first year,” said Kizer. “It’s a little different going from winning a lot to battling and taking tough losses. But it’s kind of what we expected. I’m happy even though we are where we’re at.”
The hope for this group of players is that someday in the future they will look back at a winning program and know that they were the team that got it started.
“To say we were on the original team, that we helped get it off the ground, would be pretty cool,” Tompkins said. “I hope this team can really pave the way for future teams to do great things.”
Then again, a team that features just one senior doesn’t plan on waiting long to make a tough first season a distant memory.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” Kizer said. “We know good things will come.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.