Thurston County Saints – A Good Launching Pad to College Baseball

thurston county saints
Fifteen high school seniors from the Thurston County Saints have signed letters of intent to play baseball in college.


By Gail Wood

les schwabWhen Michael Spencer began coaching the Thurston County Saints, a youth baseball program he started, he had a dream.  It was five years ago.

Among the 13-year-olds on Spencer’s first team back in 2010, there was a pitcher and a shortstop who already showed lots of potential as he put them through fielding and batting drills. And now, in the spring of 2015, those two players – Matthew Mercer and Ryan Jones – are among a talented group of high school seniors who will play baseball in college on athletic scholarships.

thurston county saints
Fifteen high school seniors from the Thurston County Saints have signed letters of intent to play baseball in college.

Fifteen Saints players have signed national letters of intent this year to play baseball at ten different colleges. It’s a reflection of the quality of players and the quality of coaching in the Saints program, which consists of 17 coaches, 100 players on seven teams from ages 13 to 18.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, now,” said Spencer, whose nickname is Whitey. “I think this is the best baseball group ever assembled here, as far as the talent of the players and the depth. And probably just as important is the coaching staff and the people I’ve surrounded myself with.”

It’s an impressive roster indeed. Both Mercer and Jones have signed baseball scholarships to major college teams. Mercer, a Timberline senior, signed with the Oregon Ducks. Jones, a senior at Black Hills, signed with Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

“I’ve been part of this program since the very beginning, since I was about 13 years old,” Mercer said. “During the summer is when you find your college. They’re great working with us at that time.”

thurston county saints
Josh Fulton talks with the Saints before a recent practice.

The Saints work as a showcase, helping put young players on the college recruit’s radar. And the Saints help groom talent, drilling young players on batting, throwing and fielding throughout the year.

Like Mercer, Jones first hooked up with the Saints when he was 13. Jones also played on Spencer’s Little League team when he was 10.

“The Saints are the reason I’m the player I am today,” Jones said. “High school has been great, but nothing has developed my game as much as the Saints because you work so much with them, during the winter and during the summer. You also get so many games with them. Then you get the exposure you need to go to college.”

The Saints coaching staff includes men who have coached high school or college. It also includes coaches who played in college and some in the minor leagues. Before starting the Saints and becoming their president, Spencer was the Capital High School coach when the Cougars won a state title in 1998. Spencer later coached as an assistant at Saint Martin’s University.

thurston county saints
Saints get ready for another drill.

Josh Fulton, who played for Spencer on that state championship team at Capital, joined the Saints coaching staff this year. After high school, Fulton played at Brigham Young University.  He then transferred to the University of California at Santa Barbara and then played several years in the minor leagues.

“Whitey’s got a lot of connections in colleges,” Fulton said. “It works good.”

While their focus is baseball, Fulton said the Saints stress the importance of being a good, all-around athlete. The Saints don’t require their players to focus only on baseball and exclude other sports.

“I think it’s really important to do multiple sports and to not just be isolated” Fulton said. “It’s good for kids to play multiple sports and to not tie your hands.”

The Saints have five coaches who coached in high school and three who have coached in college. Fulton said they all tell their players to pursue the game because they enjoy it.

thurston county saints
Players go through some warm-ups before beginning of another Saints practice.

“I think too many people chase the money,” Fulton said. “You have to play the game because you love the game.”

Jeff Brooks is another former college player now on the Saints coaching staff. After graduating from North Thurston High School in 2005, Brooks played two years at Green River Community College, a year at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and then at Saint Martin’s University.

“I’ve been coaching 18-year-old players ever since and it’s fun,” Brooks said.

With their growing reputation, the Saints are becoming a good place for young talent to come and get noticed by college recruits.

“I believe what we do with the Saints program is first to build skills, talent and we are constantly helping them improve,” Brooks said. “That’s done with workout after workout and drills.”

The Saint coaches talk with their players one-on-one about their strengths and what they need to work on.

“We talk about things they’re good at,” Brooks said. “As far as moving on, we have a good group of people who do know a lot of college coaches that we have either coached or played with at one point.”

thurston county saints
The Thurston County Saints coaching staff is well connected which helps players obtain college scholarships.

The Saints have had a number of players go on to play college ball in the past few years. In 2014, Benny Kaleiwahea, a Timberline graduate, signed with Washington State University and was one of seven Saints who signed college baseball scholarship offers. The Saints had 13 players sign in 2013 and two players in 2012, the second year of the Saints program.

Here is this year’s group of Saints who have signed. Including their high school and what school they signed with, they are:

  • Timberline: Mercer, with Oregon; Taylor Adams, Zach Owens and Ryan Connor with Tacoma Community College; Jackson Spencer with Skagit Valley Community College; Chris Roy with Lower Columbia College.
  • Black Hills: Jones, Oklahoma Wesleyan; Joseph Anderson, Lower Columbia; Judah Medina, Yakima Valley Community College.
  • Yelm: Connor Bensen, Tacoma Community College.
  • Shelton: Dalton Hutson, Edmonds Community College; Mitch Johnson, Skagit Valley Community College.
  • North Thurston: Emilio Romero, Olympic Community College.
  • Bellarmine: Jairus Richards, Seattle University.
  • Puyallup: Owen Breithaupt, Western Nevada Community College.
thurston county saints
The Thurston County Saints focus on drills.

Besides, Spencer, Fulton and Brooks, the Saints coaching staff includes Clay Hill, Rod Matthews, Jacob Butler, Chris Johnston, Cody Kitsch, Leo O’Leary, Marc Julagay, Stephen Mahnken, Traci Bowen, Scott Shellgren, DJ Penick, Chris Fulton, Matt Batt and Mike McCusker. In their evaluations to college recruits, the Saint coaches don’t exaggerate talent. That only hurts their credibility.

“Whitey is really the foundation,” Brooks said. “And college coaches know the players here have been coached well. They know they’re ready for the next level.”

To learn more about the Thurston County Saints, click here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email