EVERETT — Who’s on first?
Or, from the Everett AquaSox’s perspective, the better question may be: Who’s coaching first?
Everett has taken a unique approach to coaching first base in recent seasons, cycling through players on their bench due to the lack of a fourth coach on the roster.
Like most teams, Everett manager Jose Moreno coaches third base, but the AquaSox are the only team in the Northwest League without a fourth full-time coach with the affiliate. Pitching coach Ari Ronick and hitting coach Joe Thurston round out Moreno’s staff, but both are relied upon for their expertise in the dugout during the game.
So, before the start of every inning at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium, a player trots out to the coaching box down the first-base line with a batter’s helmet on. It’s something they would prefer not to do — after all, they’d rather be in the game and not coaching. But the players all take turns doing it on a volunteer basis.
“At some point, every one on this roster is going to have to do it,” Moreno said. “It’s a part of being a leader and a good teammate.”
Once this season, it’s provided a particularly odd substitution scenario. In the ninth inning of Everett’s 10-9 loss to Salem-Keizer on June 21st, Luis Joseph was coaching first base to start the inning and eventually swapped places with Austin Shenton after he walked.
Short-season minor-league baseball provides those type of spectacles sometimes.
What’s the trick to coaching first? Well, there isn’t anything too complicated. Mostly, it’s just making sure baserunners know when to get back to the base on a pickoff attempt.
“I think at this level, it’s more about what you read in the infield and outfield and players are confident enough in their abilities to make that decision (on their own),” AquaSox outfielder Cash Gladfelter said, who’s out with a wrist injury and has coached plenty of first base in recent games.
The toughest part of the job is not having a mitt, according to Shenton, who’s also chipped in after missing a stretch of games with a knee injury.
“The first game (I coached first), I was honestly so nervous of a ball going my direction,” Shenton said. “I just feel much more vulnerable out there without a glove. You just don’t feel as much a part of the game usually.”
Shenton, the Mariners’ fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft, returned to the lineup as the designated hitter on Tuesday after missing the past six games with a left knee injury.
Entering Tuesday’s game, the Florida International product and Bellingham native led active AquaSox players with a .343 batting average and was third with a .825 on-base plus slugging percentage. When healthy, Shenton has been a fixture in Everett’s lineup, so his days of coaching first base are largely numbered.