EVERETT — It’s a rare occurrence in professional baseball when an athlete gets to play for his local team.
While the sheer number of minor-league teams scattered throughout the nation increases those odds, it still takes a special instance of happenstance for a player to get a chance to perform at home.
Yet this summer fate has smiled on Everett AquaSox right-hander Ted Hammond, who is getting a chance to pitch for the minor-league team he grew up watching, while simultaneously toiling in the shadow of the major-league team he rooted for as a kid.
“It’s amazing,” said Hammond, a 2012 graduate of Shorecrest High School. “This is kind of a dream come true with the Mariners, and to be able to live at home and play for the AquaSox is the best of both worlds.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander was a four-year letterman, two-time team MVP and two-time All-Wesco pick at two different positions for the Shorecrest baseball team.
But Hammond’s baseball career nearly ended after high school. He was also a two-time All-Wesco pick at quarterback and weighed several small-school offers to play college football before deciding baseball was better for his future and signed with Seattle University, an NCAA Division I school.
That decision was a harbinger of what the Redhawks received.
“We got lucky,” Seattle U coach Donny Harrel said. “He was a late recruit and we got on him and there’s no question even at 18 years old he was more mature than (a typical) 18-year-old. … He was like that from the get-go and the more he got comfortable in the system, the more he was able to relax with himself.”
The Seattle U program Harrel began from scratch in 2010 was still in its infancy when Hammond committed in 2012. Hammond was determined to play a defining role in the program’s history as it began play in the Western Athletic Conference.
“The education was a big part for me and staying close to home was too,” said Hammond, who is close to his two younger sisters. “The program was kind of starting from the roots and that was their first year in conference my freshman year. And it was awesome to be part of that experience where we brought the team up to win the conference championship my senior year. It was an amazing experience.”
During his career at Seattle U, Hammond was used in both starting and bullpen roles. He was an Academic All-WAC pick as a junior in 2015 when he fashioned a 6-4 record with three saves and a 2.63 earned-run average in 22 appearances, including seven starts.
As a right-hander with a fastball that tops out in the 90-91 mph range, Hammond’s ability to “think the game” has been his best weapon at every level. He has an effective changeup, and as a senior developed a low-80s cutter that is now his best pitch.
“He’s probably the most (analytical pitcher) we’ve had go through the system,” Harrel said, “as far as the professionalism of breaking himself down and not being satisfied if things aren’t perfect and making adjustments, asking a lot of questions, getting a lot of feedback from people who he trusts or thinks can make him better. He’s a true student of the game.”
In 15 starts as a senior, Hammond was 8-3 with a 4.20 ERA. He became one of the top two starters for a Redhawks team that won the regular-season WAC title with a 21-6 conference record and won 37 games in total.
“No question he left an impact, and that class did as well,” Harrel said. “He was just stable. He was always there, he was always going to be healthy, took great care of his body.”
Hammond went undrafted after his senior year, but signed with the Mariners as a free agent and joined Seattle’s Rookie League team in Peoria, Arizona, where he fashioned a 3-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in 11 relief appearances.
He admitted being a little starstruck this year at spring training.
“During spring training I was walking around and seeing big names — like that’s (Hisashi) Iwakuma, that’s (James) Paxton,” he said. “These are guys I grew up watching on TV every day. So it’s awesome to see how things are run at this level and contribute to the organization I grew up watching.”
In one game this spring at advanced A Modesto, Hammond walked two and allowed one hit and one run in two innings. He struggled in his first AquaSox appearance, allowing three hits and leaving without recording an out.
But he was much improved in his second appearance as he allowed one run on three hits in three innings of long relief on June 19. He allowed an unearned run and one hit in a one-inning appearance three days later in a 5-1 win at Vancouver.
If Hammond reaches his ultimate goal and one day takes the mound at soon-to-be-renamed Safeco Field, it likely will come as a reliever who relies on location and execution, Harrel said.
“I don’t know if he’ll be a starter based on the love of velocity in professional baseball nowadays, but he can definitely be a situational guy with that cutter in getting a pair of right-handers out and maybe a left-hander who has a little length in his swing,” Harrel said. “I think he’ll have the ability to go up through the chain if he’s good in those pressure situations like that. And his brain is good for that. He’s great in pressure situations.”
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