It says “Oak Harbor Baseball” across the front of their jerseys, but make no mistake, some of these ball players are Coupeville Wolves.
Five of the 14 members of the Oak Harbor Babe Ruth baseball team of 13- and 14-year-olds are from Coupeville: Gabe Eck, Ty Eck, Joey Lippo, Jake Pease and Hunter Smith. Smith is 14, the others, 13.
The Oak Harbor team plays in the regional Babe Ruth League, a competitive travel conference with teams from area cities such as Stanwood, Burlington and Bellingham. The league offers a higher level of play than in most intra-city leagues, and it’s the challenge that attracted the Coupeville crew.
“It’s better competition,” Lippo said.
Smith echoed those comments and added that the skill of play generally goes up when “you go out of town to play teams.”
The biggest drawback is traveling to Oak Harbor for home games and practices, but the group said it’s not really much of an inconvenience.
“It’s fun playing in Oak Harbor,” Pease said. “The driving is not really all that bad.”
Besides the increase in competition, a positive is a chance to meet and play with other kids, they said.
The Coupeville crew plays a vital role on the team and helped the squad recently run off a six-game winning streak heading into district tournament at Burlington's Rotary Fields. The five-team, double elimination tournament starts at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25.
Two, and possibly three, teams earn state berths.
The Oak Harbor Babe Ruth program was started 20 years ago to develop players for high school baseball, and first-year coach Pete Richter is following that philosophy: “Ultimately, we strive to prepare players for success at the high school level.”
Richter is looking to increase participation. At one time, the Oak Harbor program included three teams; recently it has struggled to field one. One way to lift the numbers is adding players from Coupeville.
“For the program to get stronger,” Richter said, “we need more players interested to be part of this team early on. We hope to spark a desire in younger players, 9 to 12, to be on this team. We need more committed players and parents to fill the open spots that happen every season as the players move on.”
Richter said the Coupeville kids “have been great.”
“They need a Babe Ruth team to play on and we need the numbers, so it was beneficial for all,” he added. “I think that it helps because the kids get to make friends with players that they would normally not get the opportunity to know.”
When the season started, according to Richter, the first task was to get enough players on the roster in order to compete against other teams, and, within those numbers, have enough talent to be competitive.
Once the roster was filled out, Richter said, the goal changed to improving play: “Now, we expect the kids to perform better than when we first got them; even minor improvements every day is what we strive for.”
Richter’s coaching philosophy is centered on fundamentals, “coaching proper technique and readiness to execute on the field.”
He and is staff, assistants Shawn Trisler and Jake Neumiller, emphasize understanding the game and knowing what to do before the pitch is delivered. They also stress communication: “Teammates talking only helps the boys know the game.”
“At this age,” Richter said, “we want to teach the love of the game, keep it fun and toughen them up before they transition to high school baseball.”
The recent win streak came on the heels of a slow start. The team sports an 8-6 record, but was 2-6 at one time.
The sluggish beginning this year can be attributed to several areas, according to Richter. It took some time for the players to learn a new system and for the younger players to adjust to playing on a full-sized diamond.
“The team got better with more practices and time together,” Richter said. “They soon learned that they had the talent to compete at this level.”
Once the fundamentals and confidence were in place, the team went on its winning streak.
The Oak Harbor players are 14-year-olds James Besaw, Will Danielson, Drew Eaton, Josh Margraf, Kamren Mebane, Mackenzie Nuanez and Chris Trisler; and 13-year-olds Thomas Anderson and Caleb Fitzgerald.