EVERETT — Kyle Hunter had to strain his memory, his eyes glossing over as he tried to reach back into the deep recesses of his mind.
But try as he might, he couldn’t quite say for certain whether he’d ever attended an Everett AquaSox game in his youth.
“I think I did when I was 11 or
12, but I don’t really remember it,” was the best the newest AquaSox pitcher could do.
Nevertheless, Hunter’s addition to Everett’s roster represents a homecoming for a player who spent some of his formative years just down the road.
Hunter spent three years of his youth living in Mill Creek, and two months into his professional baseball career he finds himself returning to one of his roots.
“When I got word I got drafted by the (Seattle) Mariners I was hoping I’d get the chance to play out here,” Hunter said.
Hunter, a 22-year-old lefty, was Seattle’s 31st round pick in this year’s draft out of Kansas State. He lists Galesburg, Ill., as his hometown, but he has plenty of local history. Hunter spent three years living in Mill Creek from ages 11-13 as his family relocated to the area because of his father’s work.
Those years (2000-03) were formative ones in Hunter’s athletic development. He played Little League baseball for Mill Creek as a 12-year-old, then spent two more years playing for a travel team sponsored by the Rage Cage in Everett. He also played football and basketball for Heatherwood Middle School. The football team even played a game just across the concourse at the football section of Everett Memorial Stadium.
Hunter’s family moved to Galesburg when his father took early retirement in 2003, but he still feels strong local ties.
“I’ve got quite a few friends who still live here,” Hunter said. “Most of them are either finishing up college or out of college now. I’ve had four or five come out to a game so far.”
Those who’ve come to watch Hunter have seen a pitcher who describes himself as a strike thrower. Hunter throws a fastball that tops out in the 87-90 mph range. He also throws a curveball and changeup, labeling his change his best pitch.
Hunter used that repertoire to great effect with Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League, where he was assigned after signing with the Mariners in June. In 10 games with Pulaski he went 1-2 with a 1.61 ERA. Most impressively, he walked just three and struck out 31 in 221/3 innings.
Sox pitching coach Andrew Lorraine’s first impression of Hunter was a positive one.
“He’s very confident,” Lorraine said. “He throws strikes, goes after hitters, and he was obviously really successful in Pulaski. I think he’s really going to help us out. In what role, I’m not sure. We’ve got one lefty in the bullpen now with (Cameron) Hobson starting. We’ll see what he can handle and if he does the job he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to pitch for us.”
Hunter’s first appearance for Everett was a memorable one. On Aug. 4 Hunter found out he was promoted, traveled cross country and made his Sox debut in Yakima, all in the same day.
“We were on the road with Pulaski in North Carolina, so I flew out at 7 a.m. eastern time, and I got to Yakima about 6:30 p.m. So it was a long day.
“I got there 30 minutes before the game, played catch, then the coach told me to throw a few times off the mound just to get a feel for it because I was set for the bullpen the next day,” added Hunter who did not expect to pitch that night. “Then the game went to extra innings and he came down and said, ‘Can you go?’ I went, ‘Yeah,’ so he goes, ‘All right, you’re in.'”
All Hunter did was throw three scoreless innings to pick up the win.
It was a successful Northwest homecoming for Hunter. But homecomings have been common in his brief pro career. When Hunter was assigned to Pulaski to begin his pro career, he was returning to Virginia, which is the state where he was born.
But now that the homecomings have happened, Hunter’s focusing on performance rather than nostalgia.
“I just want to finish on a strong note,” Hunter said. “I think I’ve pitched pretty well so far, and I just want to finish strong.”