LACEY — Chandler Tracy doesn’t know where he’d be today if he hadn’t been cut from the University of Oregon’s reborn baseball program in 2009.
Maybe he’d be like most of his friends who already have college degrees and full-time jobs. But, being cut allowed him time to serve a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an experience that helped him revive a dormant passion for baseball.
And coming to Saint Martin’s University last season – three years after he last played – gave him a second chance to see if following his heart was a good idea.
“In the long run, I hope it’s a good investment,” Tracy said. “In the short run, it’s awesome.”
Tracy, the Saints’ starting catcher, isn’t a typical college sophomore. At 23, he’s one of 28 freshmen and sophomores on the Saints’ youthful 39-man roster. He’s one of the oldest players on the team and one of the oldest sophomores in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
His freshman debut at age 22 was sparkling: a .329 batting average and eight home runs – earning him the GNAC and West Region freshman of the year awards. That led Tracy to be one of 150 players named nationally to the Tino Martinez Award watch list for NCAA Division II’s top players for 2013.
And all of the accomplishments almost never happened.
After graduating from Issaquah’s Liberty High School in 2009, Tracy was invited to walk on at Oregon, which revived its baseball program in 2008. He was one of five catchers lured to Eugene, and although he thought he had beaten out two catchers for a spot as a backup or a third-stringer, he was cut.
“It was the first time I was told I wasn’t good enough to play baseball,” Tracy recalled. “I didn’t know what to do with my time.”
He left Oregon after finishing his freshman academic year and decided to serve his church mission in Cleveland. During that two-year period in Ohio, he never picked up a baseball or a bat.
As time passed, and his mission was nearing an end, he realized he wanted baseball back in his life. He reached out to his former coach at Liberty and decided to let his parents do his college shopping for him because those serving a mission have little time for such things.
They toured the Saint Martin’s campus, met with baseball coaches and university personnel, and told their son it was the place for him.
When he returned to Washington in August 2011, he bolted to Lacey.
“A week later, I was at Saint Martin’s,” Tracy said.
A slow start was inevitable. He began the 2012 season with an .062 batting average with his only hit in 50 at-bats a home run. He chuckles about it now, but it wasn’t funny then. Finding his rhythm and swing took time, and it wasn’t until he went 4-for-4, almost hitting for the cycle against Montana State Billings, that his season finally took off.
It took a change in approach to find his groove. Mentally, he became more relaxed, and that’s what Saints coach Ken Garland said his catcher needs to do to be successful.
“He needs to step back and let it happen,” Garland said. “Sometimes, it gets the best of him.”
The Saints are off to a 3-17 start this spring and are looking for their first win in GNAC play as they wrap up a four-game series at Central Washington today. Tracy is batting .277 and is responsible for all five of the team’s home runs.
“I’m glad it worked out the way it did,” Tracy said. “I play the game to play the game … School is great, but I probably put 300 times the effort into baseball, and I like that a lot.”
LOCAL COLLEGE SPRING SPORTS
Saint Martin’s University Saints
Coach: Ken Garland (fifth year)
Last season: 14-34 overall (10-20 GNAC, fifth place)
Top players: C Chandler Tracy, so.; RHP Brendan Jeffers, sr.; IF Bobby Twedt, sr.; IF Travis Shaw, so.
Outlook: Youth is in the cards for Garland’s Saints once again with 28 freshmen and sophomores on the 39-man roster. Chandler Tracy, the team’s starting catcher, is on the Tino Martinez Award watch list, an award that will go to the nation’s top player in NCAA Division II. The sophomore is the reigning GNAC freshman of the year. Travis Shaw is off to a hot start with a team-leading .344 batting average, 23 hits and 11 RBI. Saints coach Ken Garland says Josh Moss, a Rochester High graduate, is one of the team’s top pitchers.
Coach: Rick Noren (third year)
Last season: 33-18-1 overall, (22-13 GNAC, second place)
Top players: P/OF Taylor Bakos, sr.; P/IF Sam Munger, so.; 1B/P Joslyn Eugenio, sr.; 2B Lacey McGladrey, jr.
Outlook: Can the Saints continue their upward trend? After one of the biggest turnarounds in all of Division II last season, going 33-18 after a nine-win season in 2011, there’s nothing but optimism on this spring’s team. The Saints were picked to finish second in the GNAC behind Montana State-Billings, and sport a win total (14-8) already in double digits. Pitchers Sam Munger and Taylor Bakos have combined to hold opposing batters to a stingy .221 batting average.
TRACK AND FIELD
Coach: Chad Colwell (first year, interim)
Last season: Men – Sixth at GNAC championships; Women – 10th.
Top athletes: Men – Sam Washington, throws, sr.; Edd Brown, sprints, sr.; Brian McElroy, jumps, sr.; Frank Krause, middle distance, so. Women – Laura Tesch, jumps, sr.; Erica Crock, distance, jr.
Outlook: Laura Tesch enters the outdoor season with top-quality credentials after becoming the first Saint Martin’s athlete to compete in the national indoor meet earlier this month, where she placed 15th in the high jump. Sam Washington is the defending GNAC outdoor champion in the shot put and also had a strong indoor season, winning the weight throw at the GNAC championships and finishing second in the shot put.
THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE GEODUCKS
TRACK AND FIELD
Coach: Chris Ertman (first year)
Top athletes: Men – Les Jones, middle distance, so; Zephyr Forest, hurdles, jr. Women – Karissa Carlson, distance, sr.
Outlook: Zephyr Forest had Evergreen’s top showing at last spring’s Cascade Collegiate Conference championships, placing 10th and 12th, respectively, in the 400 meters and 110 hurdles.
SOUTH PUGET SOUND COMMUNITY COLLEGE CLIPPERS
Coach: Shannon Stine (second year)
Last season: Canceled season in April 2012.
Top players: C Jordanne Krumpols, fr., SS/CF Celena Edwards, fr., P/OF Amanda Rupright, fr.
Outlook: It’s a new-look Clippers team after the program was canceled last April because of low participation numbers. Twelve of the 13-player roster are freshmen, including eight South Sound-area athletes. Krumpols, from Shelton, was the 4A Narrows League MVP last spring.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick email@example.com