IT WOULD BE foolish to extrapolate an overwhelming amount of meaning from one 15-minute postgame interview session with new Port Angeles Lefties manager Darren Westergard.
And I don’t have too, because before I could discuss Thursday’s 8-7 walkoff hit-by-pitch win over Victoria at Civic Field with him, Westergard did something simple, but effective.
He paused our chat momentarily, walked over in front of the Lefties’ dugout and thanked two adults with developmental disabilities for coming out to the game and supporting the new crop of players here for a summer of wooden bat West Coast League baseball.
It was easy to tell the gesture made the pair’s day — they left the field beaming and vowing to come back next week when the Lefties return for their first homestand Friday.
I’ll never ever get upset if a coach or player needs to hit the pause button in the middle of an interview to speak with friends, family or fans — I know my place on the ladder of importance is near the bottom in those situations. So I was impressed with Westergard’s regard for Port Angeles’ fans.
And then he launched into storyteller mode – letting me know some good details about a number of players on the roster and the travels of his coaching staff, including hitting coach Trevor Podratz.
But first he let me know what he thought of the team’s opener and welcoming by Port Angeles fans.
“Outstanding,” Westergard said. “The atmosphere was great and people in this town are awesome. I’m a small-town guy from Centralia, so this felt like that. The crowd was behind these guys. Matt [Acker] has done such a good job just building that community bond, so it was just a lot of fun.”
And after seeing his team rally for a second straight night and celebrate winning an exhibition game by dousing Trevor Risenburg, the player who’s padded left elbow was hit by a pitch to bring in the game-winning run, with water, Westergard was left impressed.
“I love their attitudes,” he said. “They are here for the right reasons. Matt and I talked in the offseason about establishing connections not with big schools, but with big baseball schools where they do things right. To bring these young guys into this setting, it’s not just great for the community here, but great for the kids as they mature so quick in this setting. It’s going to be a great learning experience.”
Here are some players that stand to impress Port Angeles fans this summer.
Center fielder Dalton Harum mashed a leadoff double down the right field line to spur the Lefties’ rally in the bottom of the ninth Thursday. He also went 2 for 4 in Friday’s official season opener.
“Dalton Harum is probably going to be the best-kept secret in this league,” Westergard said. “He played at Wenatchee Valley … Between him and [right fielder Austin] Earl we were joking that they were the Bash Brothers because between the two of them they had 24 home runs with wood bats in that [Northwest Athletic Conference].
“Dalton signed with Virginia Tech and that put the pro teams on notice because there’s been a lot of talk about him getting drafted [by a Major League team]. For him, going to school and maturing, I’m sure it will help him develop at Virginia Tech.”
Chimacum High School graduate Lane Dotson got the start in front of a quasi-home crowd, a big, hard-throwing pitcher who just finished a successful freshman season at Skagit Valley Community College where Westergard is an assistant. Dotson had a little trouble Thursday, allowing six runs on six hits in three innings, but the Olympic Crosscutters American Legion ball product should bounce back.
“A local boy from Chimacum who has played on this field before, so I was excited for him,” Westergard said. “And he was excited to get the start. He started [Skagit’s] last game, a huge game against Edmonds and pitched great.”
Dotson will focus on pitching this summer, Westergard said.
“I told him, one day on, four days off, it’s a much better schedule [as a pitcher]. If you can work that out for life you’ll be doing well.”
Triston Busse, a sidearm pitcher who’s delivery reminded me a little of dominant former Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, came on in relief of Dotson in Thursday’s game and pitched a clean 4 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on three hits and striking out five.
“Busse went to BYU out of high school, sat out a year and then went to a little school in western Texas, a community college [Western Texas]. He was looking for the opportunity. Some of these kids on the pitching side, are looking for that opportunity and have a chip on their shoulder. And they are figuring out they don’t have to do it all themselves, they can pitch and they can relax because they have guys behind them who can play.
“And that’s a big confidence booster because he’s really good.”
Busse was throwing to catcher Ronnie Rust, a two-way football and baseball star at Oregon powerhouse Central Catholic who originally committed to play football for Oregon State before suffering a severe injury to his labrum (shoulder). The Beavers pulled their scholarship after Rust was injured a second time, and Rust walked on to play football and baseball for Oregon.
Things didn’t pan out and he transferred to Skagit Valley for his sophomore season. And promptly got hurt, again.
“He had a great four games for us but partially tore his hamstring and missed the rest of the season,” Westergard said. “So this was his first game catching in probably three months.”
Late in the game Rust got some diamond dust in his eyes but stayed in the game and moments later gunned out a Victoria runner attempting a steal of third. Rust also scored a run and drove in another in Thursday’s win and was 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI in Friday’s 3-2 win over Portland.
“If he can stay healthy and get out of that football mindset and get into baseball mode he’s got a chance to play this game for a long time,” Westergard said.