Locker healthy, happy as summer on the diamond comes to an end

BELLINGHAM — Answers to a few questions on the minds of University of Washington football fans after Jake Locker’s summer of part-time baseball came to an end Sunday evening:

Yes, Husky fans, your quarterback is healthy and ready to play football.

No, he didn’t miss any football-related workouts or functions in order to play center field for the Bellingham Bells.

No, he didn’t suddenly decide that baseball, not football, might be the right sport for him.

And perhaps most importantly to Locker, yes, he had a heck of a good time doing it.

“I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a lot of fun,” Locker said. “The guys are really cool and have been really inviting and welcoming. I just had a great time being out here.”

Locker spent last fall playing in front of 70,000 screaming fans, but on a postcard-perfect evening, he showed he could have just as much fun playing in front of less than 600 fans in a baseball league — the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League — most people haven’t heard of.

As the winning run crossed the plate in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 4-3 victory, Locker was one of the first players on the field to start the celebration. When the game was over, he thanked his teammates in a postgame huddle. Then there were hugs and handshakes for each of those teammates as Locker said his goodbyes.

“It’s obviously fun when you can win and win it like that,” he said. “I had a lot of fun with these guys. It was awesome, it was a great experience. It’s a good way to go out.”

It was a good way to go out for Locker not only because the Bells won in dramatic fashion, but also because it was one of his best games. Locker was 3-for-4 with a stolen base, and he doubled with one out in the ninth to help spark the winning rally. Locker scored from second on a single behind his cousin, Brady, to tie the game with two outs.

Down the left-field line, Scott Locker leaned over a fence, watching his son play baseball again after a two-year hiatus.

“It’s been fun seeing him play ball again,” Scott Locker said.

Any baseball future beyond this, however, is uncertain.

“I’m just having a good time, I don’t think anything more came out of it after playing,” Locker said, adding that another season with the Bells could be possible. “I’ll think about it and it’ll just be a decision to make if the opportunity ever presents itself again.”

According to Bells coach Brandon Newell, Locker would be a welcome addition to next year’s team if the quarterback gets the itch to play baseball again.

“We’re happy to have had Jake for as long as we had him,” Newell said. “If Jake wants to come play again, he knows the door is open. I know he’s 100 percent committed to that football program, and he should be, but if he wants to come and spend some time on the baseball field again next summer, we’d be more than happy to have him back.”

Like Husky football fans everywhere, Newell, a former University of Washington baseball player, was relieved to see Locker stay healthy on the baseball field.

“I was never really worried about him getting hurt,” he said. “But obviously it would have been a huge catastrophe if he had. I wouldn’t have been able to show my face around anywhere.”

Locker, who is known for his fearless play in football, said he never though about the possibility of getting hurt in baseball.

“I’ve always said I don’t want to live scared,” said Locker, who hit .273 with a home run, two doubles and four stolen bases in 10 games. “I want to enjoy life and have fun, that’s what it’s all about. That’s exactly what I did, and I’m perfectly healthy now so it worked out well.”

The biggest concern Locker had coming into the summer wasn’t about missing football workouts or suffering an injury. He was more concerned with how he would fit in as a part-time player whose name would bring extra attention to the Bells.

Before the season, he met with the team and said he wouldn’t play if they had a problem with his role on the team.

“I wanted to make sure everybody was OK with it when I started and understood the position I was in and the role I’d have on this team,” he said. “They’ve been really cool about it, so that made it a lot easier.”

Locker’s teammates were happy to have him around when he could play, and had no problems welcoming a college football star onto their team.

“I had heard a lot of things about him as a player, but you’re not really sure what you’re going to get in terms of personality,” said Bells first baseman Sean Halton. “But he’s been a great guy, real down to earth. He’s just a great team guy.”

And it’s a good thing Locker’s teammates don’t mind a part timer taking the spotlight, because when Locker is in a stadium, he’s likely to be the main attraction. After his final game had ended, Locker was the last player off the field after signing dozens of autographs, many of which were requested by fans in Husky colors.

When Locker finally ran out of baseballs, footballs, jerseys, hats and beach balls — yes, even beach balls — to sign, he reflected on his brief flirtation with baseball this summer. More than anything, he said, it was about having fun—and he had plenty of that, but he also knew it was time to turn all of his attention to football. Locker also thinks a few weeks of baseball could help him in the fall.

“Just being able to compete in a game situation is helpful,” he said. “It’s always good to be able to compete. This was a great experience, I had a lot of fun, and if anything I think this can help me this fall.”

John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog

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