Feb. 21, 2012
Arlecier L. West
Pullman, Wash., and Helena, Mont., are separated by 245 miles, but for those that have experienced both places, they are not that far apart.
Although Helena boasts a slightly smaller population than Pullman (28,190 to 29,799 according to the 2010 Census) Helena's small town college atmosphere offers the similarity experienced at Washington State for Cougars transitioning into the professional ranks.
Burdette Greeny, who pitched for Washington State in college and the Helena Brewers professionally said: "The people are great there, warm, caring, sincere, hardworking, very similar to Pullman. I don't know if a lot of people realize this, but Pullman is close to a lot of outdoors stuff, and Helena is the same way."
The Cougar baseball program has produced over 250 professional baseball players, and Greeny is one of 11 who spent all or part of their career in Big Sky country. Others include Seth Harvey, Brandon Hundt, Mike Kinkade, Zach McAngus, Dane Renkert, Grant Richardson, Rob Smith, Randy Snyder, Shea Vucinich and Mike Wetmore.
Kinkade, a MLB player, Olympic gold medalist, and member of the 1995 Pioneer League championship team with Helena said it wasn't a big city at all.
"The people were great and the town was involved," said Kinkade, who currently manages in the Seattle Mariners' organization. "In Helena you get a great introduction into pro ball. It has a good pace to develop as a player. In pro ball it is about developing."
Greeny, a current assistant coach for the Cougar volleyball team, also mentioned a similarity to the type of player it took to play in Pullman and Helena, one who is strong and hardy.
"Dick Foster, the Brewers' scout who signed me, knew that guys from Washington State were going to be responsible, hardworking and could handle the daily grind of professional baseball," said Greeny.
Current Washington State Baseball Head Coach Donnie Marbut would agree. In his description of players he has coached who spent time in Helena, one feature that was consistent was their hard working nature and that they were men of great character on and off the field.
Cougar baseball alum coached by Marbut was Vucinich, who began his pro career in 2010 playing for the Helena Brewers championship team after being selected in the 20th round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. For Vucinich, playing in Helena was almost like going back home. In an interview with Brewerfan.net journalist Eric Johnson, Vucinich said his work ethic is definitely what has gotten him to where he is and he's learned to respect the game.
Vucinich described Washington State teammate Harvey as being a great ballplayer and even a better person. Harvey played in Helena during the 2011 season in his second year of professional baseball after helping the Cougars reach an NCAA Regional in 2009 and 2010 and closing for the Brewers' Arizona League championship squad in 2010.
If a player needs and desires the glare of the big city bright lights in his back yard and the public spotlight that comes with it, Pullman and Helena are probably not the cities on the top of his list.
It can be said for many of the Cougars that it was about baseball and not about the extra-curricular activities and limelight of being an athlete. When asked of any asset of Vucinich that he could take and transform into his ideal shortstop, Marbut said he would choose Vucinich's character.
"The true definition of character is what you are doing when no one is looking, and you always knew he was doing the right thing," said Marbut.
That attitude is essential in pro ball where there are no babysitters. Making it the Majors is not a right. It's a privilege. One thing that Washington State can be proud to say is, here in Pullman players are getting the right tools for success to transition into minor league cities like Helena.