The Goal in Starting Baseball Northwest Was to Get Northwest Players in Front of Players and Scouts, Get Them Exposed.
Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not bliss. While relief may reside in being unaware to potential downfall, hindrances or ills, eventually what is not known becomes a deterrent to success.
If one is tasked to cross a lake, it’s important to know the width and depth of the lake to have the proper boat. Simply hopping in the first boat available isn’t the best way to proceed, especially if one were to launch in a row boat when an engine-powered boat would have been available 10 minutes later. Being aware of all possible resources and deterrents, taking in as much information as possible, good and bad, is crucial to any endeavor.
Few realms in athletics is the access to information more important than in college baseball.
A Division I baseball staff must build and oversee a 35-man roster with only 11.7 athletic scholarships. If a staff errs on just two prospects in a recruiting class it can have devastating results for seasons to come. As much as a blue-chip, golden-armed quarterback may be prized and garnered headlines and SportsCenter mentions, a slick-fielding switch-hitting shortstop or a workhorse left-handed pitcher can be the most valuable student-athlete for a university.
Knowing everywhere where talent can be found is critical on the road to Omaha, there cannot be any ignorance. With the recruiting landscape becoming more and more accelerated and competitive, Baseball Northwest’s mission is a gift to college coaches from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, one that helps eliminate ignorance.
Founded in 1995 by Jeff McKay as Baseball Oregon, Baseball Northwest has a singular goal of providing opportunities to baseball players in the state of Oregon through exposure.
“The goal in starting Baseball Northwest was to get Northwest players in front of players and scouts, get them exposed,” said Baseball Northwest owner Josh Warner, McKay’s son-in-law and former director of operations.
McKay was well known throughout the Pacific Northwest, serving as a cross-checker for the Kansas City Royals. Using his knowledge of the area and connections within the region, it didn’t take long for Baseball Oregon to grow. A year later Baseball Washington was added, followed by Baseball Idaho in 1997. In 1998, the Northwest Championship was created, a tournament heading into its 20th year as the Northwest’s premier showcase tournament.
“Jeff's goal was to collect the best players from the Northwest, allow them to play with and against each other in different settings,” Warner said. Himself an associate scout for the Royals, Warner knows the value of pitting the best with and against the best.
“It's easier for me to evaluate a player when you see him matched up a better arm, or playing next to a guy we've already put on our draft board, when you're comparing apples to apples,” he said. “Versus (evaluating) a guy that's a future DI prospect, dominating inferior talent.”
But collecting the Pacific Northwest’s baseball players is only half of what makes Baseball Northwest excel. With a proliferation of events, making sure the talent comes together in the proper setting is the key to providing the opportunities to players, and in turn what makes the organization stand out.
Washington, Oregon and Idaho ranked 13th, 27th and 39th respectively in state population in 2016. The region may not jump out as a baseball hotbed in the likes of Southern California, Florida or Texas, but with a combined population of over 13 million, there are more than a few good baseball players to be found.
Though Baseball Northwest boasts such alumni as Michael Conforto, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Tim Lincecum, next-level opportunities aren’t as prevalent close to home as may be found elsewhere in the country.
“There's only seven Division I programs in the Northwest...and there's a lot of players,” Warner said. “There's a lot of players that could go on and play Division I baseball in other states, that don't get out and get the looks. That's our goal, to provide those opportunities in getting them to other regions.”
In taking Baseball Northwest to events in Arizona, California and Florida, Warner ensures his players are seen by coaches throughout the country, where greater opportunities present themselves.
“With all of the different nation events we go to, with Jupiter, and Perfect Game, the Arizona Fall Classic with Classic Baseball, and we attend the East vs. West tournament that Prospect Wire runs, a number of the players we bring on a national stage are recruited nationally,” Warner said. “If anything, it expedites the process a bit more for them with schools outside of the region maybe even more than some Northwest schools.”
It wouldn’t hurt a college staff to get a jump on or to follow the path of one Northwest program in Baseball Northwest’s backyard. A program Warner speaks to as a testament to the quality of player found in the region.
Before a 2-2 showing in the 2017 College World Series, Oregon State held a 54-4 record. With an astonishing .931 winning percentage, a third national championship in 11 years for the Beavers would have sealed its season as the greatest ever. Though they fell two victories short in Omaha, a 56-6 season is hardly anything to scoff at, and of its record-setting roster 22 players hailed from Idaho, Oregon or Washington.
“You look at Oregon State's success, and up and down their roster, you'll see a lot of players are born or raised in the Northwest,” Warner said. “I think others are starting to realize there is a really good product coming out of the Northwest.”
With Warner guiding the ship for Baseball Northwest, more and more will realize the talent which calls the Northwest home, and any prior ignorance will blissfully sail away.