Tumwater High School baseball coach Clay Hill let’s out a slight chuckle then simply shakes his head in disbelief when asked how much practice time the rain has cost his squad this spring.
Which is a nice alternative to being in the slop and getting soaked, but it’s hardly an equal substitute for actual play.
Yes, the indoor surroundings offer dryness, but also plenty of unlikeable scenarios – namely pitchers don’t face live batters, it’s difficult to recreate game situations and the players are limited in their ability to develop that much-desired on field familiarity with each other.
It’s the latter of those three, however, that Hill doesn’t have to worry about as few teams know each other better than his current crop of Thunderbirds.
“You’re always looking for that something you just can’t coach, and that’s it for us,” Hill said. “With the experience this team has if they don’t put too much pressure on themselves this can definitely be a memorable and enjoyable season for them.”
The veteran-heavy roster features 10 seniors with four of them – shortstop Noah Andrews, outfielder Noah Sirkel, pitcher Logan Chase and catcher Jackson Davis – being three-year starters.
“I feel that’s our strength,” Andrews said. “It seems like we’ve been playing baseball together all our lives.”
A year after advancing to the state playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, the T-Birds, despite minimal practice time, are once again off to a stellar start, jumping out to a perfect 7-0 record while scoring six or more runs in each contest.
“The bats have been hot this year so far,” Chase said. “We’ve gotten off to a great start. Hopefully it can continue.”
Even if the bats cool off a little, Tumwater’s pitching staff, spearheaded by Chase, has been equally solid, combining to toss three shutouts already – a feat Chase is quick to credit Davis with as one of the main reasons for the early-season triumphs.
“He’s been my catcher for eight years now,” Chase said. “I just let him do his thing back there. I trust Jackson with every pitch. He calls the game and I pitch. I love it.”
For Jackson and his fellow long-time starters, the comfort they currently feel during their senior season is a far cry from their baptism into varsity baseball, something made even more daunting given the fact Tumwater plays in such a changeling league as the 2A Evergreen Conference.
Three years ago, eight sophomores were called up to the varsity ranks – a rare move for the T-Birds.
“It was a little nerve wrecking. I remember my first at bat. I struck out. The strike out pitch was a curve ball and I completely whiffed,” said Davis, who will play next year at George Fox University. “I remember thinking, it’s a bigger game up here. Once the nerves got out after a few games though it was just playing baseball.”
An activity Davis and his teammates have excelled at since their arrival.
Of the quartet, Sirkel is the most recent edition, transferring from Las Vegas prior to the start of his sophomore year. He had spent his freshman days in the packed confines of Liberty High School located in Henderson, Nevada – a place he remembers being so overpopulated and crowded someone could go a few days without seeing the same student twice.
“It was just a huge school,” Sirkel said. “There were so many people. It could be overwhelming. I actually moved to Tumwater two weeks before school started. I went from Vegas to a place where everyone knew everyone since they were kids.”
There was just one problem with his move from Sin City.
“I didn’t know anyone when I got here,” Sirkel said. But baseball quickly solved all that.
“When Noah arrived we just clicked from the start. It’s like he’s been playing with us forever,” Davis said. “These guys are my brothers. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.”
After making back-to-back state 2A semifinal appearances, resulting in a second place in 2013 and third place in 2014, Tumwater has bowed out in the first round of the state playoffs the past two seasons.
“We want to win this year,” Sirkel said. “No one really expected us to go to the playoffs when we were sophomores. We surprised a lot of people. Last year we built on that. This year we want to finish what we started.”