All-star contest fun, games for Jackets

Aaron Managhan/staff photos BlueJacket Brandon Kuykendall rips an RBI single in the first inning of Tuesday’s all-star game. Kuykendall was named co-MVP of the contest, a 4-1 East win. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Aaron Managhan/staff photos BlueJacket Brandon Kuykendall rips an RBI single in the first inning of Tuesday’s all-star game. Kuykendall was named co-MVP of the contest, a 4-1 East win.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

BELLINGHAM - The Kitsap BlueJackets were already well-represented at the 2007 West Coast Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game, with six players and the coaching staff selected for the West Disivion squad.

That number went up to seven Tuesday, however, after Mike Koons, a Corvallis (Ore.) reliever, signed with the Houston Astros. The West called up Kitsap closer Joe Hagen, bringing the team’s total to a team-best seven representatives.

And while the West fell to the East 4-1 Tuesday, Kitsap’s all-stars had reasons to smile all-around, with starting center fielder Brandon Kuykendall finishing as the game’s co-MVP alongside Wenatchee’s Ryan Davis.

“It’s awesome,” Kuykendall said after the game in which he finished 2-4 with an RBI and a steal. “It’s incredible. I just tried to come out here and have fun. It’s a great feeling. I can’t even explain it.”

Every Kitsap player got into the game, and all-star first baseman Ryan Voelkel, who was designated hitter during the game, participated in the 2007 WCCBL Home Run Derby prior to the game.

Hosted by the Bellingham Bells at Joe Martin Field, the atmosphere was light-hearted even as the league’s most competitive players and coaches joined on the same field. Players signed numerous autographs for fans before, during and after the game, and many spent time joking with college teammates and friends from other parts of the country.

“It’s just a really good time,” Kitsap and West Division head coach Matt Acker said. “They put on a really good show. It was a positive experience for everybody.”

Acker and the Jackets’ staff were selected to coach the all-star squad after Kitsap entered the break 18-9 in WCCBL play, atop the West Division. Moses Lake is 19-8 leading the East. The Pirates had a game-high nine all-star picks.

Play resumed Wednesday with a non-league against Olympia. The Jackets then traveled to Bend for games Thursday, last night and tonight.

Joining Hagen, Voelkel and Kuykendall were pitchers Kyle Howe and Matt Rossman, second baseman Jamie Nilsen and left fielder Joey Lind. Lind, Nilsen, Voelkel and Kuykendall were starters, and all three pitchers saw an inning in the game.

Nilsen batted leadoff for the team, just as he does with Kitsap, and got on base in both his first at-bats, drawing a walk in the first and hitting a single in the third. He finished 1-3. Lind went 0-4, as did Voelkel with one strikeout.

On the hill, Howe worked one scoreless inning with a strikeout, Rossman went a perfect inning and Hagen walked two before getting Kelowna’s Ryan Lee to line into a 6-4 double play.

While the West struck first with Kuykendall’s RBI single, that was the only run they would score. The East got two runs in the fourth and fifth innings to jump ahead. Davis finished 2-4 with a run, an RBI and a steal. Moses Lakes’ Zach Hedges and Jesse Ayala each drove in a run as did Wenatchee’s Zach Mandeblatt.

But regardless of individual performance, each said it was exciting to participate in the all-star contest.

“It’s exciting,” Rossman, a late arrival to the Jackets this year, said. “I came here late, but I was still able to come in and make an impact in the games I pitched in.”

Lind, another latecomer this season, also relished the opportunity.

“It’s a great feeling being recognized with the best guys in the league,” he said. “It’s just nice to come out here and show what you can do. And being here with six other BlueJackets is great too.”

“It’s so fun,” Kuykendall said. “Just getting to see all the other guys and how they play. You learn a lot from some of the guys here.

For Kuykendall and others, it was also a chance to reunite with former teammates. Kuykendall played with Bend (Ore.) catcher Ryan Scott (a current University of Washington player) when he was 16 years old.

“It’s kind of fun to get back on the field with him,” Kuykendall said. “It’s just fun. That’s all baseball is.”

Being a last-second addition to the all-star team, Hagen got razzed a little by Jackets assitant coach Scott Colby.

“They called me around noon (Tuesday),” Hagen said. “Colby calls me up and says he’s from the Seattle Times and they want to do an article on me. He had me going there.”

The league’s co-leader in saves, Hagen said he too was just excited to get the opportunity.

“It’s exciting just being here, being able to play.” he said.

While Voelkel, with “Longball” among his many nicknames, was unable to go yard during the home run derby, he wasn’t alone as two other participants also went homerless. Bend’s Chase Powell lead the competition off with two dingers in the first round, but Wenatchee’s Dillon Baird launched five. Michael Ratigan of Moses Lake hit three more to move past Powell, but Bellingham’s Zach Miller gave chase late, hitting two on his last out before flying out short of the wall.

Neither Baird nor Ratigan could repeat the success in the finals or tie-break rounds, with Baird ultimately being crowned derby champ based on his first-round totals.

Voelkel said hitting a homer in the derby is tougher than catching the right pitch in a game.

“I think it’s harder now,” he said. “Everyone is watching. Everyone expects it out of you.”

With many of the WCCBL’s players excelling as all-stars at various levels throughout their playing careers, Voelkel said this was the best he’s participated in yet.

“It was pretty fun,” Voelkel said. “This is probably the best. It’s definietly the highest level I’ve been in so far.”

As for getting back from the break, the Jackets said consistency is going to be the key to keeping on top in the West Division.

“Just stay consistent,” Acker said. “That’s gonna be key for most of the stretch. Just do what we’ve been doing.”

“We’re just going to try to keep playing our game and score runs,” Lind said. “Our pitchers have been doing a great job. It should be fun.”

Postseason ticket reservations are now available by calling the BlueJackets at (360) 479-0123.

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