June 5, 2000
By Jeff R. Evans
Baseball is a haunted game in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before. Most of all, it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope - and most of all Coming Home.
The long and winding road of professional baseball can take a player to every corner of our country. From the small towns that dot the map of minor league baseball like Raleigh, Rockford, Quad City, and even Tacoma, chasing the Major League dream will often chase you away from home.
The travels, the endless road trips, the nights away from your family, and the feeling of a new town every night is often the reality of this sport. But for three former Washington State University players currently in the Seattle Mariner organization, baseball is truly about coming home. The trek may have been winding, but it has taken them from Pullman to SAFECO Field.
The off-season signings by the Mariners of Cougs John Olerud and Aaron Sele brought two Northwest natives back to their home state. The third Cougar, and the freshest of the five current WSU alumni in the major leagues, is Robert Ramsay.
The Mariners have had several Northwest natives play in their organization in the past, but never have they had as many at the same time. Names like Ken Phelps, Tom Niedenfuer, David Wainhouse, Russ Swan and Dave Edler are all former Cougars who had Northwest ties with the Mariners.
The signing of Olerud December 7, 1999 marked the coming home for the Bellevue, Wash., native. After starring in his prep days at Interlake High School, Olerud followed in his father's footsteps to Washington State where he became one of the best collegiate players of all-time. The left-handed first baseman and pitcher recorded one of the best seasons in NCAA history in 1988 when he was named Baseball America's Player of the Year after hitting .464 with 23 home runs at the plate, and going 15-0 with 2.49 ERA on the mound. For his Cougar career, Olerud batted .434 in 131 games with 33 home runs and 131 RBI while compiling a 26-4 record with a 3.17 ERA as a pitcher. Now in his 12th season in the big leagues, the former Toronto Blue Jay and New York Met entered 2000 with a .301 (1434x4765) career batting average, including a 1993 American League batting title with a .363 batting average.
Through the first week and a half in May in his inaugural campaign with the Mariners, Olerud has been one of the top hitters in the American League. The sweet-swinging Olerud is hitting .324 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 22 RBI.
Olerud was reunited with his college teammate Sele, after the latter signed with the M's in January. Olerud and Sele suited up together one year in the crimson and gray of WSU during the 1989 season. Sele, a native of Poulsbo, Wash., and a graduate of North Kitsap High, was a standout at WSU from 1989-91 and was an All-American in 1991. Sele was also a member of Team USA during his collegiate years and played alongside current Boston Red Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg.
Sele still ranks in the top-10 in several categories in the WSU record books and left WSU in 1991 with a 21-14 career record. This season, Sele is 2-2 with a 4.50 earned run average and has held opposing hitters to a .279 average.
The third Cougar that will be a familiar face at SAFECO Field this summer is left-handed pitcher Robert Ramsay.
Ramsay played at WSU under college coaching legend Bobo Brayton for the first two years of his career that spanned 1993-1996. Prior to WSU, Ramsay played his prep ball at Mountain View High School (Vancouver, Wash). Ramsay, who came over from Boston in a trade for Butch Huskey, was impressive in his short stint with the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle's AAA club) last year posting a 4-1 record with a 1.08 ERA. Ramsay was a late-season call-up for the Mariners in 1999 and impressed Lou Piniellla with his poise and ability on the mound. In six games and three starts, Ramsay was 0-2 with a 6.38 ERA.
After starting this year with Tacoma, Ramsay was moved up to the Mariners in late May after going 0-1 in three starts with the Rainiers. Ramsay quickly impressed in his 2000 debut and has since tamed opposing teams with a 0.79 ERA in 11.1 innings. He has allowed only one run and eight hits in four appearances and has held opposing batters to a .200 batting average.
With all the former Cougars on the Mariners roster and baseball being played outdoors at SAFECO Field, baseball once again feels home grown, with a touch of crimson and gray.