They may be in different cities now, playing collegiate baseball at the NCAA Division I level, but four Gig Harbor High School graduates still keep tabs on each other — even if they’re in the opposite dugout.
It doesn’t happen often, but Parker Guinn, David Bigelow, Chet Thompson and Scott Schultz connect from time to time.
Guinn, a catcher, will be a junior this fall at the University of Washington. Bigelow, a redshirt junior, is a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher at Gonzaga University. Thompson, also a redshirt junior, is an outfielder at the University of Portland. And Schultz, a 6-2 right-hander, passed up an opportunity to sign with the Miami Marlins this summer after the club selected him in the 17th round of the June draft in order to return to Oregon State University for his senior year.
Sometimes the connections are natural — Guinn and Schultz both play in the Pac-12 Conference, and Bigelow and Thompson are both in the West Coast Conference — but they also have a common home during the offseason, and they get together when they can.
At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Guinn is the first person to say he’s not the biggest guy behind the plate. But he uses his knowledge of the game to put himself in position to block pitches and control opponents’ running games.
“I like to think of myself as a new-age catcher; I’m not a lump of coal behind the plate,” Guinn said. “I try to be as solid as I can defensively.”
Guinn moved to Gig Harbor from Las Vegas when he was in eighth grade and joined the Narrows Baseball Club’s 16-and-under team when he was a couple years younger than the age limit. That’s when he started to forge a relationship with Schultz, and he and Bigelow were battery mates for a year before both Schultz and Bigelow graduated in 2010.
Thompson left for Portland after the 2009 season, and Guinn graduated in 2011.
When he got to the UW, Guinn was down on the depth chart. He sat behind both BK Santy and Chase Anselment, both of whom are now in pro ball. Santy is with the Elizabethon Twins in the Rookie Appalachian League, and Chase Anselment is with the Rome Braves in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Looking back, Guinn wishes he would have redshirted during his freshman year to save a year of eligibility. He appeared in three games that year and then played for the Bend (Ore.) Elks during the summer in the West Coast League.
“I didn’t realize the adjustments I really needed to make,” he said. “I should have redshirted, but it ended up working out fine.”
Guinn got his first college start this past spring in a power-packed environment at Baton Rouge, La., in front of 9,000 fans in a weekend series against the LSU Tigers. He went 1-for-2 with a walk in one of the games on March 9, although the Huskies were swept in the three-game series.
Washington went 24-32 overall, 15-15 in conference play. Guinn batted .333 in 27 games, 12 starts, with three doubles and five RBIs. He hopes his surprise offensive performance in limited action will give him a boost in the competition for playing time next year.
“I started hitting a little bit, maybe a little more than they anticipated,” Guinn said. “I always work really hard at that. I’m not a big, physical specimen by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t put on a show in (batting practice) or anything like that. I just try to hit line drives, work gap to gap, and it ended up working out.”
One difference he’s finding is that Washington doesn’t let catchers call games from behind the plate, although he does get that opportunity when he plays summer ball.
“It helps me learn the game so much when I call the game,” he said. “I can really get a feel for what pitchers’ pitches do. All the guys are different mechanically. It helps me anticipate when a ball is going to be in the dirt.”
Schultz, whose Oregon State team reached the College World Series this year, pitched against Washington when the Beavers visited Husky Ballpark in April. Guinn said Schultz hadn’t given up an earned run all season until that day.
Schultz took the loss on April 20 as Washington put eight runs on the board in the eighth inning. He faced just four batters but was charged with four earned runs on three hits, and he didn’t record an out.
If bragging rights are on the line, however, Schultz and the Beavers have a solid case. Oregon State went 52-13 (24-6 Pac-12), and Schultz was a driving force out of the bullpen. The 6-2, 211-pounder saved a team-high 10 games and went 2-1 with a 2.08 earned-run average in 27 appearances, all in relief.
Schultz struck out 34 and walked just eight in 43 1/3 innings, and opponents batted just .191 against him.
Now a father, he was featured in a story earlier this summer by the Oregon State student newspaper, The Daily Barometer, that detailed his life off the field with his girlfriend, Allison Snell, and their 2-year-old girl, Madison.
Allison and Madison attend every home game.
“I think she went to her first baseball game at 4 months old, and I think she’s been to almost every home game since,” Schultz told the Daily Barometer about his daughter. “She’s starting to learn how to chant, and she roots for the Beavers every day. It’s pretty awesome. She’s a great little girl and I love her to death.”
Schultz, an all-Pac-12 honorable mention this year, and left-hander Ben Wetzler, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth round of the June draft, both have chosen to return to Oregon State to make another run at the College World Series.
Bigelow, Thompson and Schultz all played sports together in the Gig Harbor area before they were even 10 years old. From Little League to soccer and basketball, they all were and active group and continue their competitive natures.
Via email last week, Bigelow said this past season was a tough one. He had a 2.50 ERA during his sophomore year at Gonzaga and hoped to help close out games in the back end of the bullpen.
“Two weeks into the season, I tore my right lat muscle off of my arm while pitching against San Diego,” Bigelow wrote. “I had surgery to repair it and missed the rest of the season, plus summer ball.”
Bigelow said he’s been rehabbing in Gig Harbor with Dave Andrews and Bruce Snell, and he’s looking forward to getting back on the mound this fall.
“Hopefully I can work my way into the weekend rotation, as our top three pitchers from last year all went in the draft,” he said.
Bigelow has had a chance to play against all three of his former high school teammates in college. WCC opponents Gonzaga and Portland play a three-game series each year.
“I picked up two saves against Portland my sophomore year,” Bigelow said. “The second game actually ended with Chet (Thompson) in the on-deck circle, which I was happy about.”
Bigelow said one of the reasons they’ve all been successful is because they all love the game.
“There are some very long days of practice, weights and meetings,” he said. “Even though we are at different schools, we all have an understanding of the hard work that the other guys have put in.”
He said the injury to his side will help him down the road.
“Since coming back from surgery, I have kind of been re-teaching myself how to throw,” he said. “I have been able to clean up my mechanics and focus on improving my changeup heading into the fall.”
Thompson, the oldest of the group, also dealt with a significant injury — a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during the first game of his senior year at Gig Harbor High. He was dropped into the designated-hitter role for the rest of the season, then had Tommy John surgery that June.
Thompson was granted a medical redshirt under coach Chris Sperry at Portland, and he avoided hitting or throwing for a calendar year. He returned to Gig Harbor and played first base during the summer for the Narrows Baseball Club’s 18U team under coach Jon Fuller.
He went back to Portland following the 2010 season but had to deal with a series of challenges.
“After having a major arm surgery and not hitting a live pitcher for almost a year, I went into fall baseball at Portland, striking out a lot and developed a fear to throw a baseball hard from the outfield,” Thompson said.
His coaches continued to tell him it would be a process to fully return, and Thompson credits their patience with his recovery.
Thompson said it took two years before he felt comfortable in the outfield.
“Most of the recovery from Tommy John (surgery) is due to the player’s mental side,” he said. “After the two years and I didn’t have any fears throwing my hardest with accuracy, my arm is back to normal, if not better than before.”
Thompson, who throws from the right side but bats left-handed, started 29 games in 2012 with three doubles, three triples and 16 runs scored, and he was named to the WCC’s all-academic team. He only got 35 at-bats in 10 starts this past spring with the Pilots due to separate pulled muscles.
“Going into my final season, I look to avoid the injury bug I had from my senior year of high school and of last season and look to be able to be healthy all year,” he said.
To stay in touch, Thompson says he sends text messages to Schultz and Guinn every now and then, and he checks boxscores of all their games, hoping to see they played well. He and Bigelow talk more frequently and use an iPhone app called Snapchat to send photos back and forth.
Thompson and Bigelow were roomates in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last year as they played in a summer league. They were on separate teams and played against each other.
“During one of our games against each other, I warned David not to throw me a fastball for the first pitch,” Thompson said. “David decided to throw a fastball, thinking I would be looking for something else. As I got an extra-base hit and was standing on third base, he had this mad look on his face and kept staring at me. I proceeded to shrug my shoulders and tell him he shouldn’t have throwing a fastball on the first pitch.”
Thompson said that story exemplifies their friendship.
“Hopefully next year David will recover from his arm surgery, and I will be able to face him one last time when Portland plays at Gonzaga,” he said.