07/21/2015 8:33 PM
Story By Tim Clinton
Strains of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” echo through the covered grandstands as shadows creep across the field at Steve Cox Memorial Park in White Center.
The Highline Bears are wrapping up infield practice in preparation for another Pacific International League semiprofessional baseball game at the park that has also gone by Mel Olson Stadium and White Center Stadium in its history that dates back to the 1940s.
The Bears are only in their inaugural season but follow distantly in the wake of other semiprofessional baseball and national level men’s fastpitch teams that called White Center home in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
Aside from offering the area its highest level of ball in over 30 years, the Bears are also offering winning ball.
The Bears boast a 14-12-1 record as only an expansion team in a league full of college players in their summer season as well as some former college and professional players.
“We projected eight wins, but we’ve already won more and we’re over .500 and that’s cool,” said Bears manager Todd Coughlin.
Players are not paid in this semiprofessional league to protect college eligibility, but the level of ball is high and the feel of the atmosphere is Minor League.
“We’re trying to make it feel like a Minor League thing where kids have fun,” Coughlin said. “We’re trying to build it.”
Youngsters are allowed onto the field after games to run the bases and collect autographs, and Friday was Southwest Little League night in honor of the White Center-area charter.
“Not only does it help the kids, it helps these guys, too,” Coughlin said of the interaction. “This is about developing players and helping out the community.”
As children follow a furry Bears mascot around the stadium, players are introduced with their own selected music.
Music is also played at appropriate times in the game.
“It Takes Two Baby,” sounded out after Bears shortstop Joel Moore made a diving stop on a ball hit up the middle and turned an inning-ending double play, then “1-2-3 ABC” after the opposing Everett Merchants were retired in order in another inning.
“I Can Help” was played when Bears pitching coach Larry Responte visited starter Travis Cook on the mound, while the removal of an Everett pitcher was greeted with “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” and the “Goodbye” song.
When the team trailed, 6-2, going into the bottom of the ninth inning lines from “Animal House” were played including “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” reminiscent of when the scene was played before the Seattle Mariners rallied to beat the New York Yankees in the 11th inning of the deciding 1995 playoff series game that sent them on to the American League Championship Series.
This time it didn’t have the same results as the Bears left two runners stranded for a 6-2 final score, but the song “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” was quick on the cue.
Announcements are professional, but quick-witted at times.
“Attention all fans, the concession stand called and they need you over there right now,” echoed out in the second inning.
Prices are low for a high level baseball game at the stand, including $2 hot dogs or nachos, $1 drinks and $3 combos.
Tickets are $3 apiece for adults.
Two home games remain for the Bears, with the Seattle Studs dropping by at 7 p.m. Friday and the Northwest Honkers of Fall City at 7 p.m. Saturday.
From there, the team visits the Northwest Honkers at 5:30 p.m. next Monday and Tuesday, and drops in on the Snoqualmie Hurricanes at the same time next Wednesday before playing in West Coast tournament action at the Kitsap County Fair Grounds July 31-Aug. 1.
The team already has one tournament championship in hand after posting a 5-1 record to capture first place in Kelowna, B.C. in June.
Assisting Coughlin along with Responte are assistant manager Emmet Woods and hitting coach Joe Townsend.
Players, and their colleges if applicable, are: Connor Jones (Central Washington), Mike Ramos (Central Washington), Colton Kelly (Columbia Basin), Kyler Phelps (Pierce College), Brandon Mozzone (Northwest Nazarene), Michael Greenwood, Merle Rowan-Kennedy (Uuniversity of Puget Sound), Brice McCulloch (Oklahoma Wesleyan), Myles Wesener (Central Washngton), Travis Cook (Central Washington), Nick Moore (Skagit Valley), Justin Moser (Mount Rainier High School graduate), Anthony Clifford (Seattle University), Ryan Archibald (Central Washington), Trenton Gibson (Becker College graduate), Evan Harder (Lewis & Clark), Ben Fitzhugh (Central Washington), Hayden Meier (Lewis & Clark), Jason Castro (Hawaii-Hilo), Gunnar Hinds, Matt Stuart (Green River), JJ Pino (Tacoma), Joel Moore (Tacoma), Garrett Terrell (Central Washington), Travis Crumb (Jamestown), Joey Gamache (Tacoma) and Emmet Woods (Green River graduate).
Wesener comes to the team — and CWU’s — from Australia, while Moser doubles as the general manager.
“We’re starting to get the attention of players and programs,” Coughlin said. “And it’s great to go around Burien and White Center and see Highline Bears T-shirts.”