By Jordan Stone
Spring is coming early this year according to a couple different sources, one of whom is close to home.
The first is Punxsutawney Phil, who did not see his shadow on Groundhog Day.
The second is Western’s club baseball team, which is due to start its season on Saturday, Feb. 22, when they travel to Kent to play Green River College for their 2020 season opener.
The Vikings are hoping to rebound after underachieving during the 2019 season. They finished third in their conference, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years and missing an opportunity to appear in their fourth-straight championship game.
“Last year was a bit of a letdown,” said Jack Hudd, president and player-coach of Western Baseball. “In our big series against [the] University of Oregon and OSU [Oregon State University], we hit a dry spell with hitting. People started getting in their own heads.”
The Vikings compete in the National Club Baseball Association, specifically the Northern Pacific West conference. In 2020 they will compete against teams from Washington and Oregon for a chance at earning one of two playoff spots.
“In this conference, you have to win two out of three the entire season in order to make the playoffs,” Hudd said.
Hudd, who is in his first year as president and head coach, is optimistic for the upcoming season. With a new crop of players at his disposal, he and his team have very high expectations.
“I want to make playoffs,” catcher Maverick Larkin said. “This is my senior year. We better win it.”
This is Larkin’s fourth season playing for Western baseball. Larkin pitched in addition to his duties behind home plate a season ago, where he said pitchers would have to throw a complete game virtually every start due to a lack of roster depth.
That won’t be the case this season, Larkin said.
“We are very deep positionally this year,” Larkin said. “We have a lot more pitching, so it should take more of the burden off.”
Depth is one area the Vikings have a distinct advantage that will allow them to slot in different players based on performance, according to Hudd. The Vikings’ biggest strength, however, might be the bonds they’ve made off the field and their joy of getting to play the game they love.
“I just think everyone is out here to have fun,” said pitcher Clifford Heberden, a first-year Western student. “We have a pretty good dynamic. Nobody really wants to mess up. We are all here to just have a good time.”
This sentiment seemed to be universally shared by members of the team.
“I just love hanging out with the guys and playing,” Larkin said. “It’s one of the only times during the week that I’m not stressing about school.”
Second baseman Tyler Weed added had a slightly different perspective.
“After high school I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep playing baseball,” he said. “Just being out here is really fun. I’m enjoying it a lot.”
The Vikings have focused on making their team more visible to the community this year by working with the Wade King Student Recreation Center, as well as increasing their presence on social media. The Vikings are most active on their Instagram page, @WWU_Baseball.
“A lot of people have no idea that we have a club baseball team on campus,” Hudd said. “That is one of the things we have been trying to work on this year. Trying to market a little more and get people to know about us.”
Hudd and the rest of the team hope their marketing efforts will lead to increased attendance this season.
“We will have games where no one shows up, and we will have games where there are 50 people in the stands,” Larkin said. “It’s a lot more fun when people show up.”
There are a lot of factors that might entice people to go. Their love of baseball and competition is one. The beautiful Joe Martin Field, home of WWU Baseball is another, Hudd said. Or maybe, if you are like many college students, free admission will be the single greatest attraction, according to Weed.
Seeing people in the stands, supporting the team, means a lot to the players.
“A lot of us have our friends and family come out, but that’s it,” Hudd said. “It is very cool in the big games to have more fans come out and get to experience that side of it.”
The Vikings won’t play in Bellingham until the last week of March, when they take on Eastern Washington University on April 4 at Joe Martin Field. The game is set to start at 4 p.m.