By his back-of-the-baseball-card numbers, the big league career of Minnesota utility man Ryan Doumit has been solid but unremarkable: A nine-year veteran who played his first seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Doumit is a .268 lifetime hitter with 94 home runs and 383 RBI.
And yet there’s an aspect of Doumit’s career that qualifies him as unique.
A second-round selection in 1999, he was a member of the most ballyhooed baseball-draft class Washington has ever produced. Ten prospects from the state were chosen during the first two rounds that year. Of the 10, nine are out of baseball, and the only one still standing was sitting in front of me Saturday morning in the Twins clubhouse.
“That was a special year,” said Doumit, whose high school teammates at Moses Lake included catcher B.J. Garbe (selected No. 5 overall, by the Twins) and outfielder Jason Cooper (a second-round choice of the Phillies). “Moses Lake back then was a town of about 12,000 people. To have three guys taken in the draft, from an area that small, that was pretty cool.
“And Jeff Heaverlo, who ended up at the University of Washington, was from Ephrata, 20 minutes away from us. It was a very exciting time for the Columbia Basin – a time I’ll always cherish.”
Garbe, the Gatorade national high school player of the year, was regarded as the star of a Moses Lake team that at one time was ranked as high as No. 4 in the U.S. Garbe’s status as a top-5 pick would have been enough to put Moses Lake on the baseball prospect map. The fact Doumit (No. 59) and Cooper (No. 63) were drafted on the same day borders on the astonishing.
“Everybody got started at a young age when we were there,” said Doumit. “It was something we were always passionate about growing up. Any off time we had, B.J., Jason and I spent it at the baseball field, hitting. Baseball was our whole life. We took our own initiative. We wanted to play.”
But only Doumit reached the big leagues, enduring thanks to skills that anchor a long career: A switch-hitter whose primary position is catcher, Doumit – the name is pronounced “Dough Mitt” – also has played right field, left field and first base, in addition to serving as a designated hitter.
How rare is a switch-hitting catcher? Of the estimated 1,650 players who’ve caught at least one game in the bigs, only 82 batted from both sides. The best of the them – Ted Simmons, Jason Varitek, Jorge Posada – can be counted on one hand.
Doumit’s value is his versatility. He was used Saturday as a replacement for All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, on paternity leave after his wife gave birth to (what else?) twins. When Mauer is behind the plate, Doumit, who has the power to bat cleanup, converts into a corner outfielder or DH.
That he’s enjoying a lucrative career – he signed a two-year, $7 million contract extension in 2012 – while his best friends are long retired from baseball is not lost on the 32-year old.
“Those guys certainly had the skills,” he said. “The whole thing about the big leagues is being in the right place at the right time. My getting to the big leagues and them not getting to the big leagues has nothing to do with talent. It all gets down to the fact I was given a chance, and I made the most of my opportunity once I got it.
“You talk to those guys, they’ll tell you they’re happy with what they did. They had great careers of their own.”
Garbe banked a $2.75 million signing bonus from the Twins, and hit .316 in his first season at Single A. But he had a vision problem diagnosed as night blindness, not the sort of thing you’d wish on an athlete regularly required to play games starting at 7 p.m.
Garbe never hit above .275 in any subsequent season. The Twins traded him to the Mariners (for indefatigable catcher Pat Borders) in 2004, and he spent part of the following season with the Florida Marlins’ Double-A affiliate before retiring to manage a sports bar and grill in East Wenatchee.
Cooper turned down the Phillies to attend Stanford, where he played outfield and worked toward an anthropology degree. A third-round draft choice of Cleveland in 2002, the left-handed hitter advanced to Triple-A Buffalo in 2005. Then things stalled, and five years later, he too was done with baseball.
As for the other Washington notables from the 1999 draft, their careers were undone by, well, you name it: Injuries, tough luck and that career-ending obstacle known as elite competition.
Hudson’s Bay pitcher Ty Howington (No. 14, Cincinnati Reds) had elbow issues that turned into shoulder issues.
Centralia pitcher Jason Stumm (No. 15, White Sox) retired from the minors with seven wins, fives saves and four surgeries.
Heaverlo (No. 33, to the Mariners) looked to be on the cusp of following the career patch of his father Dave, a former Seattle pitcher, but he never advanced beyond Tacoma.
Hanford outfielder Jason Repko (No. 37, Dodgers) played 129 games with the big club in 2005, hitting .221. Repko spent the next seven seasons in perpetual call-up mode from Triple A. He retired from the Red Sox last season.
Washington Huskies pitcher and Newport High grad Travis Anderson (No. 80, Astros) didn’t make it beyond Double A.
West Valley of Yakima pitcher Josh Pearce (No. 82, Cardinals) made it to St. Louis, where he appeared in 13 games, between 2002-04, as a reliever.
Pro baseball is a hard-knocks world, but none of these sagas should be confused with a tragedy. Tragedy is a word that would apply to Edmonds-Woodway pitcher Gerik Baxter (No. 28, Padres), on the same fast track to the majors as his buddy Jake Peavy.
In 2001, Baxter and fellow Edmonds-Woodway product Mark Hilde, also a Padres prospect, were driving on Interstate 10, outside Indio, Calif., when Baxter’s pickup blew a tire, sideswiped another vehicle and rolled over several times. Both were killed.
Ryan Doumit acknowledges the confluence of circumstances that have allowed him to survive, and thrive, in the big leagues. He was given a chance – he was in the right place at the right time – and he made the most of it.
Regrets are few, too few to mention, but I found myself wondering how a Moses Lake powerhouse, anchored by three of the top 65 prospects in the 1999 draft, fared in the state playoffs.
“We got beat in the regionals at Yakima,” said Doumit. “We lost to Selah, a team we had already beaten three times.
“A bit of a downer, but still, what a special year. B.J. and Jason and I will always have that. We spend time in the winter talking about what fun that was.” firstname.lastname@example.org