TUMWATER — Few high school catchers get to wear the fancy, eye-popping gear that professional ballplayers do, but when you’re friends with a minor leaguer, receiving game-worn equipment is a big perk of that relationship.
That’s how it is for Tumwater High senior Ian Sugrue, who wears a chest protector and shin guards passed down from Stephen Vogt, a catcher in the Oakland A’s organization currently playing for Triple-A Sacramento. The gear — which happens to be a similar color scheme to the Thunderbirds’ school colors — draws rave from his teammates.
“I’m very fortunate,” Sugrue said.
Vogt, 29, makes Tumwater his offseason home and is the catching coordinator for Olympia native Jared Sandberg’s Sandberg Baseball Club. His wife, Alyssa (Ferdaszewski), is a 2003 Capital High graduate and will be the girls basketball coach at Tumwater next season.
Sugrue credits Vogt for his personal growth and development as a catcher; the pair have worked one-on-one since Sugrue entered high school, and they have become close friends.
“Knowing that I’ve learned most everything from him, I know that I’m confident with the way I play and the way he’s molded me into a catcher,” Sugrue said. “It’s definitely benefited me a lot.”
Sugrue is one of seven seniors on a 22-4 Thunderbirds squad making their second consecutive Class 2A state semifinal appearance in Yakima. They face Lake Washington (16-9) at 1 p.m. Friday in the second of two semifinal games at County Stadium.
Vogt was a late-season call-up with Oakland last season and had the winning single in the ninth inning of a 1-0 victory over Detroit in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 5. He said Sugrue has
always had the instincts and traits of a good catcher but needed help developing better mechanics and utilizing his strengths.
Vogt also recalled Sugrue’s concern about being undersized — he’s 5-foot-10.
“He’s very fundamentally sound,” Vogt said from Sacramento, where the River Cats wrap up a four-game homestand Friday against Albuquerque. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the best overall defensive catchers I’ve seen for a high school kid up in Washington. For him to realize you’re not as big or strong as other catchers doesn’t mean you can’t be good.”
A three-year starter, Sugrue, a Clark College signee, prefers being a catcher because he likes being part of every pitch, and relishes the leadership role that comes with it. He’s also having his best offensive season, hitting .303 with 20 hits and 15 RBIs in 73 at-bats.
“I like being the guys that everyone can turn to,” he said.
With that comes trust from the pitching staff, too. The T-Birds’ top three pitchers — Garrett Terrell (9-0 record), Elijah Hill (6-1) and Luke Hare (6-1) — have a combined earned-run average of 1.31.
“You can throw any pitch to him and he’ll catch it or block it,” Hill said of Sugrue. “He calls a great game.”
A win Friday sends the T-Birds into Saturday’s state title game for a second consecutive year, where they’ll face the winner of Friday’s first semifinal between Anacortes and Ellensburg. Tumwater has never won a state title in baseball, but Sugrue knows the senior-laden team has what it takes.
“I know that we put ourselves in a lot better place than we were last year,” he said, “and we should do a lot better (this weekend).”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/ southsoundsports @megwochnick