LYNNWOOD — On a sunny Saturday afternoon, 12 teenagers and two adults stood in a large circle in the outfield of the main baseball field at Lynndale Park, which serves as home base for Pacific Little League.
This group was a portrait of pure joy, with sounds of laughter, excitement and merriment emanating from every part of the circle as they remembered all they accomplished five years earlier.
It’s been five years since the Pacific Little League all-star team advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The players are now all seniors and juniors spread across four different high schools, ready to transition to a new stage in life that for many doesn’t include organized sports. Some of the players no longer play baseball, and a couple don’t play sports at all.
But none of that prevented everyone from reminiscing, appreciating and enjoying what was a magical summer of 2014.
“I’m going to remember it for a long time,” said Tyler Durbin, who’s now a junior on the King’s baseball team. “It’s probably going to be the peak of my baseball career. It’s something not a whole lot of people get to experience, especially at that young of an age.”
It was a wild ride to Williamsport for Pacific Little League. The team needed a dramatic late-inning comeback to prevail in a winner-takes-all District 1 championship game. Pacific had to come through the losers bracket after dropping an early game in the Washington State tournament. Then Pacific rolled through Northwest Regionals undefeated to earn a spot in Williamsport.
At the Little League World Series the team went 1-2, losing its opener 12-2 to Jackie Robinson West of Chicago, beating Canyon Lake of Rapid City, South Dakota, 7-5, then being eliminated by an 11-4 loss to Pearland (Texas) East. The game against Jackie Robinson West became a win after the fact when Jackie Robinson West was disqualified for violating Little League boundary rules.
Among the highlights for Pacific was Colton Walsh, a junior at Meadowdale who stopped playing baseball to concentrate on football and basketball, hitting a home run at historic Howard J. Lamade Stadium, and Karsen Tjarneberg, a senior on the Warriors’ baseball team, earning a pitching win.
“The games were really hyped,” said Read Carr, a junior on the Edmonds-Woodway baseball team. “There were a lot of fans there, in the outfield and in the stands. A lot of parents, a lot of supporters. It was really nice to look up in the stands and see that people were supporting you.”
But for most of the players their strongest memories from Little League World Series aren’t of the games.
“I had kids coming up and asking for my autograph, that’s something I never experienced before and probably never will again,” said Mason Vaughn, a junior on the Meadowdale baseball team. “Then there was pin trading with all my friends, hanging out, going to watch games when we weren’t playing on games, being on TV. It was awesome.”
“For sure I remember all the ice cream that we got,” added Ben Grant, a junior at Shorewood who now plays soccer instead of baseball. “That was the 12-year-old me and I fricking loved that. Every single dinner they would let us have one ice cream, but they didn’t really pay attention, so of course being 12 I’d get two or three.”
In all the team spent almost a month together as it traveled to San Bernadino, California, for regionals, then headed straight to Williamsport from there. And when the players were asked about their strongest memories, many recalled times that didn’t even involve Williamsport.
“I had some of the best times during practice, when we were just hanging out with the guys,” said Ian Michael, a senior on the Edmonds-Woodway baseball team. “The best memories came from when we were just together as teammates and not when we were winning games. Obviously those are great memories, but I think the bond we built was the best thing that came from it.”
Pacific managed its run despite having a squad that was not blessed with future Major League Baseball draft picks or NCAA Division I players. And the team’s top player, Tai Starchman, missed much of the run because of a broken thumb suffered at districts.
“We were a talented team, but maybe not the most talented, there was definitely some really good talent in the state at the time,” Tjarneberg said. “Everybody played their role, everybody had a part and everyone stuck to their part. If one person wasn’t on this team then I think the whole thing falls apart because that’s just how well we jelled together.”
Not all of the players have continued their baseball careers. Of the 13 players, eight are playing high school baseball this spring, including six for Edmonds-Woodway. Three others play different sports, while two are no longer involved in athletics.
“Playing in the Little League World Series, that was the best athletic experience of my life, and nothing will ever come close to that,” explained Nate King, a junior at Meadowdale who stopped playing baseball and now plays golf. “So when I was playing 15-year-old baseball I thought, ‘It’s never going to lead up to that.’”
But most of the players from that team have remained close over the years, particularly those who play together for the Warriors.
And no matter how spread out they become, they’ll always have their memories of going to the Little League World Series together they can share.
“It’s crazy, playing on national television at such a young age,” said Matthew Turcotte, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway who stopped playing sports his sophomore year to concentrate on academics and his YouTube channel. “It puts into perspective that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. It’s definitely motivation for the future. If you have a dream go out and get it because it’s possible.”
The story has been modified to correct Colton Walsh’s high school.