LACEY – Images from the Boston Marathon bombings two weeks ago hit Tyler Ridgeway hard.
The news of the attacks made him angry, and he felt helpless.
“I couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.
The North Thurston High School senior pitcher and outfielder comes from a military family; his father, Bill, served a stint in the Army, and his grandfather and great-uncle served in the Marines.
After North Thurston’s graduation June 6, Ridgeway will take off for Annapolis, Md., to join the United States Naval Academy, which accepted him in the fall. He will serve on active duty for at least five years upon graduation to fulfill his naval service obligation.
“Being able to serve the country I love by being an (naval) officer sounds cliché,” Ridgeway said, “but I want to be a leader in society and set an example, to be looked up to and know that I can do my best job to the best of my ability to protect people.”
Ridgeway, like many high school baseball players, dreamed of a scholarship to play in college. He’s an all-2A Evergreen Conference player with a fastball that reaches 87 mph.
Colleges pursued him, and Ridgeway listened. But his interests changed, and serving his country is his top priority.
Ridgeway’s interest in the Navy was piqued in the summer of 2011 after talking with Rams coach Lance Baker and his son, Zak, who entered the Naval Academy after graduating from North Thurston in 2009.
Lance Baker said Ridgeway, who’s batting .490 in the leadoff spot and has a 5-1 pitching record this spring, is the perfect candidate for the academy because of his competitive spirit, discipline, determination and hard-working attitude.
“He’s what you want your daughter to marry,” Baker said.
Ridgeway has had to work for his athletic success. At 5-foot-9, he was considered too small to be a pitcher, but now boasts all-league credentials. And after turning to the pool to help build himself up, he swam in four state swimming and diving championships and was this season’s team captain.
“I pride myself on that,” he said. “It drives you to be the best.”
Swimming, Ridgeway initially thought, was a way to help strengthen his pitching shoulder and elbow, but he turned into a pretty good freestyle swimmer, specializing in the 50 and 100 meters. He credits the forward motion of the events with helping his pitching; he doesn’t have pain and never had major arm problems.
The no-quit attitude sticks with him.
“I like to work hard, and I do everything to the best of my abilities,” Ridgeway said. “(The Naval Academy) fits into everything I want to do.”
Matt Acker, in his first season as Timberline’s baseball coach, recruited Ridgeway when Acker was an assistant coach at Saint Martin’s before taking the Blazers’ job last fall. He said Ridgeway’s demeanor is “unbelievable.”
In Timberline’s 5-2 win over North Thurston on Friday, Ridgeway pitched all seven innings and gave up two earned runs in the loss, yet Acker praised Ridgeway’s manner on the mound.
“That fact that he kept going,” Acker said. “There were a few mistakes, and we had a few good approaches, but it never changed. It doesn’t always go your way, but the kid just kept playing his game and that’s why he’s a good pitcher.”
Walking-on at Navy’s baseball team is an option for Ridgeway, but he’s not ready to make that decision. College baseball programs occasionally still contact Ridgeway, and he says thanks, but no thanks. For now, he’s helping North Thurston (15-5 overall) prepare for a postseason run – the Rams open the 3A Narrows League tournament today at the Regional Athletic Complex.
“Life isn’t all about baseball,” Ridgeway said. “I thought (the Naval Academy) was just another place, but the more I looked into it, it was what I wanted to do.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick