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Wednesday, August 10, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Turning Tragedy Into Inspiration -- Marysville Dedicates Games To Late Pitcher

MARYSVILLE - Brad Baunsgard loved baseball almost as much as he loved life itself.

"He totally lived for the game," said Patrick Opel, pitching coach for the Marysville Senior American Legion baseball team.

Baunsgard, 16, died in a boating accident last week, but his love of baseball lives on through his Marysville teammates, who have dedicated the rest of their season to him. Players and coaches will be wearing a patch bearing his number nine in this week's state Legion tournament in Centralia. Marysville (22-22) plays Lakeside Recovery Center (42-10) of Bellevue in the first round tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.

Baunsgard's death could have meant the end of Marysville's season. A day after the accident, while the search for his body continued, Marysville faced a loser-out game in the District 2 tournament in Anacortes. Opel and Stan Meek, the team's head coach, met with players to discuss what they wanted to do. A forfeit would have meant elimination from the tournament and the end of the season.

No one felt like playing baseball that day, but Meek and Opel tried to consider what Baunsgard would want. The final decision was left to the players.

"Brad was very dedicated to baseball," Meek said. "It was his life. He lived, drank and slept baseball. I told them, `I want to dedicate the rest of the season to Brad. Brad would want to know we are continuing.'

"I was committed to doing this for Brad, but it was their choice. They decided they wanted to play ball and dedicate the season to Brad."

Jason Nielsen, who was with Brad and Brad's father when the accident happened, wasn't sure he could play the game.

"I didn't' think I'd be any good for the team that day," he said. "I was still pretty upset. But I started feeling for the other guys and what they wanted to do and decided it was the right thing to do. It was what Brad would want."

Brad's parents, Ken and Vicki, were very active in the baseball program and avid supporters of the team. Meek asked a family friend of the Baunsgards what they would want the team to do. Play, she said.

She was right.

"She knew as well as we do that Brad would tell them to play," Vicki Baunsgard said yesterday, a day after Brad's funeral. More than 600 people attended the services.

"Brad wouldn't want it any other way. That's the way he was. . . . The fact that they've dedicated the season to Brad has been an inspiration to us."

Brad, a pitcher who would have been a junior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School this fall, has been an inspiration to his teammates. The day after the accident, Marysville rallied to beat Edmonds 9-8 on an RBI single by Ben Silva with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. The next day brought another near-miracle victory over Everett. Marysville rallied from two runs back to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth, then won in the seventh on a two-out hit by, fittingly, Nielsen.

"When we went into the bottom of the seventh, I told them, `We're doing this for Brad. We won't be denied,' " Meek said.

When Arlington eliminated Anacortes in the following game, Marysville was assured of its first state Legion appearance. Arlington then beat Marysville for the No. 1 seed, but the berth was in hand.

Understandably, Vicki and Ken Baunsgard didn't attend those three games.

"We couldn't," Vicki said. "We were dealing with our loss. But for them to dedicate that tournament to Brad kept us going."

They got regular updates from Brad's teammates, who continue to call and drop by the way they always have.

"They would say, `Brad was there, he's with us,' " Vicki said. "That helped us feel he's there for us, too."

Marysville's Junior Legion team also decided to play in a season-ending tournament last weekend in Mount Vernon, dedicating it to Brad, who also pitched for the squad of younger players. After struggling for most of the summer, Marysville went 4-1 to capture the tournament title.

The Senior Legion team didn't have the best of beginnings, either. After a disappointing (6-13) high-school season, four of the team's top prospects decided to play elsewhere. The Legion team lost 10 of its first 14 games, but went 16-12 down the stretch and finished in a fourth-place tie in District 2 games at 11-9.

Meek has been touched by the way his players have handled the tragedy and turned it into a mission.

"I could never be prouder of a bunch of kids," he said. "They had a purpose and they were real dedicated to playing the way Brad would have wanted them to play. The kids just did it for Brad."

They hope to keep doing it in the state tournament, and Vicki and Ken Baunsgard will try to be on hand.

"His dad and I feel that Brad would want us to be there," Vicki said. "They (his coaches and teammates) are just like a family. They've meant everything to us through this support."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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