New Lineup Retains Old Dream -- Youth Movement Has Changed Merchants, But Team Would Love To Repeat '88
When Harold Pyatte looks down his Everett Merchants dugout, he sees only two players who remember a time that he will never forget.
It was just four years ago that the Everett Merchants stunned semipro baseball by coming out of nowhere to win the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kan., taking the title from Midlothian, Ill., 14-11 on Troy Rusk's dramatic three-run, 12th-inning home run.
"I remember when that happened," said left fielder Jared Fowler, who was a sophomore at Everett High School at the time. "I remember people talking about it, that it was a really big deal in Everett. I think I even knew a couple of the players on that team through baseball circles."
Most of the players on that team have now given up baseball, something Pyatte has yet to do. The Everett longshoreman, who played on the 1963 NBC tournament team, Everett's previous tournament entry, is in his 20th season coaching the Merchants.
"A lot of things have changed," Pyatte said. "Many of those have gotten married and have discontinued playing. O Sobottka (the team's leading hitter), who signed with the Phillies off that club, had a rotator cuff injury and he can't play at a competitive level. He just got married.
"The only one still playing (pro ball) is Troy Rusk, our catcher who hit the three-run home run in the 12th inning to win it for us, is still in the Phillies organization."
Dave Wong, a pick-up player from Portland, was named the most valuable player in the tournament four years ago as the team's stopper. He is now the head baseball coach at Willamette University.
The only players still on the club are pitcher Regan Bass, a former reliever who has won his past six starts this season, and shortstop Scott Carpenter.
"Back when I was playing for the Huskies, most of the (Merchants) players were like I am now," said Carpenter, 26. "Now the younger players come out because they know they have a chance to go back to the tournament and play in front of a lot of scouts."
Pyatte agreed that the NBC title produced other changes in perspective.
"(The championship) served notice that the teams in this league (Western International League) can pretty much compete on a national level, on a level with the teams from Alaska," Pyatte said. "Our team, our program, has benefited quite a bit from the national exposure.
"The big difference between (the national powers) and us is pitching. We hit with them and play defense with them. But it's the pitching that gets you there and keeps you there. Those teams have three or four pitchers who can all throw 80-85 mph and are all 6-foot-1, 6-2. That's the biggest difference."
This season, Pyatte has recruited more young players.
Nine Merchants were drafted by major-league baseball teams last month and four signed, including Mark Peterson (now with the Everett Giants) and Trevor Cobb (now with the Fort Myers, Fla., Twins). Chris Sheehan from Washington State University and Chris Berg from the University of Washington also signed.
"This year's club is a lot younger than the club we had even last year," Pyatte said. "We've got some younger players on the club that are going to be very good players."
Although a loss Saturday night put them out of contention for the league title, the Merchants are in contention for another trip to the NBC tournament. To earn an invitation, the Merchants (18-10) must win the Western Regional tournament, which starts Wednesday at Sherman Anderson Field in Mount Vernon.
The Merchants tuned up for that bid by winning the Kamloops (B.C.) Invitational Tournament earlier this month, earning $8,000 in prize money.
Two of those young players are products of Everett high schools. Brian Loucks, a standout in football and baseball at Cascade High, is an outfielder with professional promise. Fowler capped a standout career at Everett High School by accepting a scholarship to Texas A&M, but has transferred to Walla Walla Community College for this fall in a move to find playing time.
"Loucks is going to school at UNLV, and is leading our league in hitting. He was the most valuable player in the Kamloops tournament," Pyatte said. "He has a major-league arm and has average major-league speed and a major-league body - he's about 6-2 and 205 pounds - and he's a very good prospect for us.
"I expect Jared to be the best catcher in the community college league this season. He's phenomenal. He's got a great arm and a great attitude. He runs well and he's a big kid, about 6-2 and 195. But he's not able to catch for us because we still have a catcher out of Class AAA - Dan DiMascio (who last played professionally for the Calgary Cannons in the Seattle Mariners' organization)."
Fowler, 19, is the youngest member of the team.
"The rest of the team is a little older than I am and a little stronger," Fowler said. "But I'm starting to get my hitting stroke back a little, and I'm improving. That's the important thing."
Pyatte said he has a good feeling about his new roster.
"I think we're peaking at just the right time," he said. "We've got a lot of young talent that's really eager to learn. They hustle and come to every game.
"The intensity level is a little bit higher than what we had in 1988 at this point. We're peaking at this moment. We're just two, maybe three (pick-up) players from really having a super club."
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