When it comes to donning the Wilder blue and white, throw school colors out the window.
Wilder Baseball, the Olympic Peninsula’s elite baseball club for 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds, has undergone an overhaul in recent months and now boasts a distinct Sequim influence.
More than a dozen players who call Sequim home are helping Wilder battle top club teams from across the state and region as part of the Wilder Seniors and Wilder Juniors teams.
Nick Johnston, a 2014 Sequim High graduate, is in his second year with Wilder. The hard-throwing southpaw/first baseman is headed to pitch for Edmonds Community College in the fall, but not before trying to help Wilder win a state title.
“I think (the mix) is pretty good,” Johnston says about the cross-peninsula lineup. “We’ve all played with each other for years.”
Johnston joins SHS varsity stars Dustin Bates, James Grubb, Evan Hurn, Tanner Rhodefer and all-state player Brett Wright on the Seniors squad, while the Wilder Juniors team boasts up to 10 Sequim-area players.
Johnston says the level of play is a little different from spring high school games.
“It’s the same game but it’s a different mindset because you’re playing teams that have put together their best (lineup) from other places,” he says.
The Wilder teams get a chance to play in front of hometown fans with the annual Firecracker Tournament, set for July 3-6 with games at Port Angeles’ Civic Field.
“I like it because a lot of people show up — they’re into it,” Johnston says of the Firecracker.
“It’s kind of a tradition Wilder program’s established,” Wilder Seniors coach Mike Politika says. “It’s a great time of year for ball. We always get a good crowd coming and … we’ve been fairly successful.”
Buck Gieske, assistant coach with the Juniors team, says there is a bit of rivalry between the two Wilder squads.
“They’re having a blast — a great group of kids,” Gieske says of the Juniors team. With a lineup of about two-thirds Sequim players, the Juniors are playing above .500 ball and showed some pop in their first wood bat tournament game of the season, knocking off the opposing team 16-4.
Wilder’s strong resume
Wilder Baseball, a 501(c)3 program, started in 1979 by Scott Brodhun and Sam Hurworth, who dubbed the team the Aggies. The program won state titles in 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 2000, 2002 and 2003, 2006 and 2008.
Players in the program have gone on to play Division I and II baseball and to minor league teams.
Brodhun retired in 2007 and handed it down to former player Rob Merritt, who in turn handed it off to Sequim High grad Chad Wagner last season. Now the program boasts two teams, with Mike Politika leading 16- to 18-year-olds on the Wilder Seniors team (Zac Moore is the assistant coach), and John P. Qualls heading up the 16- and 17-year-olds Juniors team (Gieske, Chris Young and Darren Dotson are assistants).
Team sponsors include Wilder Auto and Ryfield Properties, which help raise as much as $25,000 for 18 players to play in dozens of games and tournaments each summer.
While the highlight for local fans may the Firecracker, players look toward the state Babe Ruth tournament, set for July 10-14 in Port Angeles.
“I think state is going to be a little bit of a challenge,” Johnston says. “We’re not much of a power team. We’re not a super big team (but we’ve) got a really good defense.”
The Babe Ruth Regional Tourney is July 21-26 in Vancouver, Wash., with the Babe Ruth World Series slated for Aug. 7-13 in Ephrata.