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Central Kitsap High School baseball player Drew Vettleson strikes out sports reporter to win challenge
Drew Vettleson’s big grin stretched across the infield, masking his freakish baseball talent.
Like the ability to throw between 90-93 mph with his right arm — and in the upper-80s with his left, accurately. Or hit the ball more than 400 feet, to all directions of the field, from the left side of the plate.
Home runs and no-hitters are norms, not exceptions, for the ambidextrous Vettleson, the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year who is rated the No. 19 prospect in the country and projected to be drafted in the 2010 Major League Draft in June.
He’s been contacted by every Major League team and has for a post-graduation back-up plan a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State University if he doesn’t go pro this year. The Central Kitsap High School senior’s stock continues to rise.
And there I stood, in the batter’s box, ready to face this grinning specimen of otherworldly athletic prowess.
And there I stood, the broke and hapless Kitsap version of Mighty Casey.
Clearly my opponent had more talent, more ability, was physically superior and has a much brighter future. But what I lacked in those areas, I made up for with optimism and an expanding beltline.
I was on the Cougars’ practice diamond Tuesday, ready to deliver the greatest performance of my dead baseball career. I was there to get a hit, maybe even a home run, against one of the most talented players this area has ever produced.
Vettleson had accepted my challenge: One at-bat — the future pro against the Average Pro.
Sure, he struck out 15 batters while throwing a no-hitter last week against Bellarmine Prep School. Yes, he’s either headed to one of the premier baseball programs in the country or the pros. Uh huh, he hits for power to all fields and is considered one of the top prospects in the state.
None of that mattered. Not to me.
Older, wiser and more determined than my advisory, I envisioned the ball soaring high and far off the bat, over the fence and into the parking lot. I’d trot around the bases, kick up dirt and jump like grease in a pan. The celebration would be glorious, the tale unforgettable.
Until he hurled the first pitch, a screamer.
The ball ascended — fast — and soared 10 feet above my borrowed helmet, crashing into the chain-link backstop behind home plate and dribbling back toward my feet.
The rattle of metal failed to muffle what came out of my mouth, a squeaky noise, something similar to a yelp. Glancing toward the mound in bewilderment and shock, I saw my foe laughing.
At that moment, I could actually see myself getting hit in the head by the next pitch.
My mind began to race. My thoughts wandered from my unwritten will to my childhood playing days, when the most feared competitors stuffed their cheeks with bubblegum, and then to the partially digested pepperoni pizza I ate for lunch that was now crawling up my throat.
I wanted to leave. This was a bad idea. But what would Vettleson think? Probably that I’m a coward.
There was no turning back. I was there to get a hit, to prove the Average Pro is more than an exceptional slouch. And I wasn’t going to show my fright.
Plus, Vettleson intentionally threw that first pitch skyward. It was joke. I’d be fine.
The second pitch came faster than the first, straight down the middle with barely any movement, and I swung with all my might, thudding a foul ball into the dirt.
A foul ball. A fouuuul ball! I had made contact.
Not bad, considering who threw the pitch.
After hearing that 31-inch, 28-ounce aluminum bat make contact, I had no doubt I’d put the next pitch in play. I even saw one of the infielders behind Vettleson shuffle his stance following my first near-smack, as if he anticipated some action. He probably had a pebble in his cleat.
And a small crowd, like four people, coworkers actually, had gathered behind the backstop. It was as if the ting of my foul ball had ignited a late-inning rally. They were cheering, sort of, rooting my name.
This was an opportunity to avenge all the strikeouts and dribblers and bloopers that came to define my Little League career.
Apparently Vettleson took notice.
Before the next pitch, he and the catcher were suddenly communicating without talking. The 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound pitcher stared toward the plate, shaking his head, “no,” then nodding, “yes.”
This confused me. There had been no such communication on the first two pitches. Must mean curveball, I reasoned. I wouldn’t swing. Not falling into that trap. I’m a fastball hitter and the count was even at 1-1. I was in control.
It was a fastball, down the middle, and I didn’t swing. Strike two.
One more strike and I’d be sent to the showers with a .000 batting average unblemished.
After another foul ball — straight into the backstop —I stepped out of the batter’s box and took a few practice swings.
My timing was getting better. But I needed to swing faster, a little sooner, because the key to getting a hit was to get ahead of that 90 mph fastball. I sensed tension on the field. The catcher murmured something to the effect of, “Dude, you’re doing way better than we thought.”
Of course I was. And I wasn’t finished.
As I tapped the plate with my bat, waiting for the next pitch, I started talking to myself. Not a good sign.
Hopefully the catcher didn’t hear. My lips may not have been moving. I can’t remember.
“Let’s go, you chub, hit the damn ball and prove these guys wrong.”
Something along those lines.
Vettleson fired again.
This pitch came slower, it seemed, and it was headed in the direction of my wheelhouse, middle of the plate at the knees. Why was he throwing me such a meatball? Did he feel bad for me? Was this a joke like the first pitch, when the ball somehow filled with helium?
Wide-eyed and grinning, I unleashed my most thunderous swing of the day, extending both arms and lunging forward.
Then the ball dropped in mid-flight. It literally just dropped. Into the dirt. Away from the plate. I reached for it with my bat, missed contact by about a foot, and stumbled over the plate, flopping like a fish in the bottom of a boat.
“I’d definitely give you a 10,” Vettleson said of my at-bat, complimenting the two foul balls. “After I threw that pitch behind your head, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”
Had I not nearly soiled myself, I may have charged the mound.