A bit of superstition is part of Medical Lake baseball success
Medical Lake’s baseball team has conducted its massive turnaround in the traditional ways.
In crafting a 19-3 overall record that has earned the Cardinals one of 16 berths in the state 1A tournament that will trim things down to a single winner over the next two weeks, the Cardinals have done all the things good baseball teams do.
“We’re known a little bit for our pitching, we just have good fundamentals,” head coach Kerry Kelly said. But there’s something else that Kelly is certain has played a role in his team’s night and day rise from their 1-18 overall record in 2012.
“Every good baseball team has a little bit of superstition going on,” Kelly said, and for the Cardinals that bit of gold dust might belong to the number four. As in the jersey number formerly worn by assistant coach Josh Smith.
Smith had been part of Kelly’s staff all three years he’s been at the helm of the Cardinals.
“He’s a San Diego transplant much like myself,” Kelly explained. “We ended up working at Costco together and started talking.” They found they had some things in common, both having a love for baseball.
Smith worked really well on the staff and was well liked. “We really felt that we were firing on all cylinders as a coaching staff,” Kelly said.
But just as Costco gave Kelly and Smith a chance to get to know each other and work together, so it led to Smith’s departure earlier this season, back home to mostly sunny So-Cal. An opportunity came up that he couldn’t pass up and Smith was headed back home with a transfer.
“The kids found out the day before their first Freeman game that Smith’s transfer had come through and he was leaving,” scorekeeper Mike Paulson said. “The kids knew he had submitted for the transfer, but there was no timing.”
It could have come immediately or not for six months, but the kids hoped he would make it through the season.
“So one day Adam (Paulson) goes, ‘You know what coach, let’s hang coach Smith’s jersey up in the dugout every game,’” Kelly said.
But Paulson took it a step further, telling his coach hanging the jersey was not enough. Some sweat had to be worked into the tribute.
“You know coach, I’m going to wear No. 4 today,” Paulson told his coach. “I think coach Smith would love that.”
Paulson went out that day, pitched six innings in an 8-3 win over the Scotties, striking out eight. He was 1 for 2 at the plate with a pair of walks and RBI’s plus a run scored.
Kelly said it was such a great idea to wear Smith’s jersey that he suggested every week it be awarded to players based on merit and how a player practices. That, after the remaining two senior starters, Taylor Dormaier and Kasey Kelly got their chance.
In his stint Dormaier was 1 for 3 with a three runs scored and two RBIs in a 19-2 rout of Kettle Falls, while Kelly had a hit and scored three times as the Cards edged Chewelah 4-3 April 6.
“It was a honor but I did my very best – it wasn’t always to the guy with a home run or pitched seven strong innings – it was based on honor, what you did on the field, how your practices went, if you had a good progress report, everything that factored into what we believe in,” Kelly said.
The stats associated with the jersey are a little sketchy from there on out, but one thing’s for sure, when it failed to make a road trip the result was indeed eerie.
“Here’s the ironic part of the whole story,” Mike Paulson said. “After three games wearing the jersey, we had won all three games, then on the fourth game against Riverside.” When the jersey was accidentally left behind and nobody was wearing it when the Cards took their first league loss, strangely enough 4-0.
“I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out, but going for our fourth win with jersey No. 4, we lose 4-0,” Paulson said.
Any baseball purest would suggest the baseball gods were giving the Cardinals a sign and that jersey No. 4 need to be worn on the back of one of the players every game. Now, with the addition of a number of JV players to bulk up the roster, jersey No. 4 has found a permanent home on the back of sophomore outfielder Joe Sica.
Kelly said he’s kept in contact with Smith, “I text him a couple of times a week after ballgames to let him know how we’re doing. It’s hard for him, he’s back home and he loves San Diego.”
“But I’ll tell you what, more than one time he mentioned he didn’t realize how much this team meant to him until he was away from it,” Kelly said.
Smith may have transferred to San Diego, but his spirit lives strong in the Medical Lake dugout. They hope it has enough magic in it to deliver the wins needed to bring the Cardinals their first ever state baseball championship.
That number? Well what else but 4?
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.