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Future of West Coast League Looks Bright

10/20/2009 9:04 AM

COMPILED BY ALLAN SIMPSON of Perfect Game Crosschecker
- In Association with League Managers and Scouts -

In its five-year existence, the West Coast League has quickly positioned itself as the best up-and-coming summer college league in the country. It has been efficiently run, especially under the direction of second-year president Ken Wilson (a former major league broadcaster), and its membership not only has vibrant communities that have embraced their teams but there is a growing list of cities throughout the Pacific Northwest that want in.

The WCL will add two new Washington-based clubs in 2010, in Kelso/Longview and Walla Walla, and has plans to accommodate Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Klamath Falls, Ore., a year later. The league even broadened its reach this year by helping to launch two new five-team developmental leagues, WCL Portland and WCL Tri-State (with teams in California, Nevada and Oregon), while striking up strategic partnerships with both.

For the West Coast League to truly assert itself as one of the nation’s elite summer leagues, though, it has to be challenged to keep the best home-grown college talent closer to home. Too many high-profile players from the six Division I schools in Oregon and Washington played elsewhere this summer—notably in the Alaska, Cape Cod, New England Collegiate and Northwoods Leagues.

The Newport Gulls ran away with the New England Collegiate League championship largely on the strength of a roster heavily dotted with Washington college players. Numerous Washington State players, in particular, factored prominently into top prospect lists of leagues other than the West Coast. Promising Gonzaga lefty Ryan Carpenter, a potential first-rounder in 2011, might have been the WCL’s No. 1 prospect had he not spent his summer in Alaska.

Still, the strides the West Coast League have made are significant, and the corresponding success that the baseball program at Oregon State has enjoyed cannot be underscored enough. In fact, the impact of OSU winning back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007 continues to reverberate throughout the Northwest.

It played no small part in the University of Oregon (in 2009) and Seattle University (in 2010) reviving dormant intercollegiate baseball programs, and has also contributed to Corvallis, OSU’s home base, being the WCL’s hub city, and the Corvallis Knights the league’s marquee franchise. The Knights stormed to a league title in 2008 and were the WCL’s dominant team again this season before being upset by a young and fast-charging Wenatchee team in the league’s championship series.

Corvallis’ success, on the field and at the gate, stems largely from its close relationship with the baseball program at OSU, and the Knights even play their home games at the Beavers’ Goss Stadium. Though the NCAA prohibits more than four players from one college team playing on a single summer-league club, the Knights managed to have five players with Oregon State connections on the accompanying list of the WCL’s top 25 prospects.

Technically, No. 1 prospect Andrew Susac and No. 3 prospect Taylor Ard didn’t count towards that total as they were both Beavers recruits—Susac out of high school, Ard out of junior college—but the close association of the team and school have been instrumental in the success of the Knights, who set a league-record for wins this summer and went 49-13 overall.

Other WCL clubs might have to find their own way of tapping into a natural talent source to keep pace with Corvallis and its Oregon State ties. But there is no shortage of talent in the area as Gonzaga and Washington State, along with OSU, are potential top 25 teams nationally in 2010, and Oregon and Washington certainly have the resources and potential to be as well, though it may take time as the second-year Ducks are just getting off the ground and the Huskies are regrouping under a new coaching staff.

In a way, it was ironic that Washington, for all its recent failings that led to the recent ouster of long-time coach Ken Knutson, was never able to entice Jake Locker, the school’s star quarterback, to play baseball in three years with the Huskies. And yet the two-sport star spent his 2008 summer playing in the WCL for Bellingham, and was even selected the league’s No. 1 prospect.

Locker was subsequently selected in the 10th round of this year’s draft by the Los Angeles Angels and signed with that club even as football remains a far higher priority than baseball, but his case points up a situation of the WCL turning the tables and getting value out of a player that a Pacific-10 Conference school couldn’t. Now if only the WCL can lock in on players the Pac-10 is sending elsewhere.

Visit the West Coast League web site to read the full article.

About the Bellingham Bells

The Bellingham Bells are a summer collegiate, wood bat baseball team and a member of the West Coast League.  During the months of June, July & August, the Bells compete in a 57-game season, playing home games at Joe Martin Field in Bellingham and traveling to compete with other WCL teams in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. The Bells strive to contribute to a strong and vibrant community through affordable, family-friendly entertainment. 

Find Us

Joe Martin Field 

1220 Civic Field Way 

Bellingham, WA 98229

(360) 527-1035