Not a single 2017 Gig Harbor Varsity baseball player was alive the last time the state title found its way to the trophy case, but 20 years later, a special group has once again brought the championship home for the Tides. With a 5-1 victory over Southridge in front of boisterous fans at Safeco Field, the dream season was complete. For a program that’s a perennial favorite, the wait seemed like an eternity, but, at the beginning of the 2017 season, just about everyone thought this team might have a real strong chance to stop the drought.
Head coach Pete Jansen has been at the helm for 28 seasons and alongside him for the last 17 is pitching Coach Larry Carlson. The pair has created and refined ‘the process,’ something they drive into their players’ heads each practice from the first day they put on the jersey.
“It’s simple,” explained Carlson. “Come to practice every day, buy into the process, and the results will speak for themselves.”
‘The Process’ involves identifying strong pitchers from a young age and separating them from fielders and hitters during practice to really focus on their craft. This paid off in the form of seven quality arms this season including three aces at the top: seniors Avery Jones, Logan Gerling and Patrick Fredrickson. The trio was instrumental in leading the team to a 24-4 overall record and State Championship.
For many of these players, this day started long before getting their driver’s license. Angie Schmidt, whose son Johnny played multiple positions his senior year, remembers when many from this group began playing together at age 7. Schmidt said she’s seen this team grow from kids making friends to a team built upon strong bonds and relationships.
“They are such close friends. When one is not having a good day, his teammate picks him up. As a team, these boys have been through parents divorcing, beloved grandparents passing, challenges with peer pressure and yet, through it all, they lifted each other up and remained brothers, teammates and champions.”
The competition to get on the varsity team is intense, and it takes maturity and the willingness to be coached, learn and adapt to continue improving as a Gig Harbor High player. “Players need to know how to have a positive attitude when dealing with failure,” said Coach Jansen. “Baseball is a game of failure. Good hitters fail seven out of 10 times, and you have to learn from your failures, make a plan and compete.”
With goals set high each year, one might think that this is a smile free zone of 100-percent focused individuals, but that’s not the program run by Jansen and Carlson. Players are encouraged to participate in other sports, and one of the team mantras is “Let’s go out and have fun tonight.” That looseness was proven to be true when the team faced its biggest adversity of the season when they fell down eight runs to Lakeside early in the playoffs. For a team that relied so heavily on its top-notch pitching, it would have been easy for them to fold, but instead they came together and rallied to an improbable 10-9 comeback win. Avery Jones appeared early in the game, striking out eight of the 14 batters he faced. With the tying run on first and nobody out, Jones told the coaching staff he had one more inning in him, came back to the mound and promptly struck out the side to end the game. “After that game, the club house was so loose, our kids told me we can beat anyone and this is a team of destiny,” said Coach Carlson.
Destiny did in fact lead them to Safeco Field, and the senior pitching staff allowed just a single run to complete the epic season. “We were all screaming and crying and laughing all at the same time. Baseball moms are known to be crazy, but we were completely out of our minds and in another universe,” recalled Schmidt.
The students and Gig Harbor community were out in force with the K cards, and Coach Carlson compared the atmosphere to that of a Friday night football game.
“It was amazing how full our student section was at Safeco. That student body is no doubt a huge part of the team’s success. The boys wouldn’t have done it without them,” said Schmidt.
Added Coach Jansen: “It was an exciting ride for everyone; an experience that they will remember forever.”
A talented group of seniors is moving on and, incredibly, just about all will be playing ball at the next level. Another group will take their place next season with the same goal in mind, but when you graduate, the story doesn’t end. Many former players were in the stands cheering on the team during state, several of the local teams Gig Harbor played this year were coached by former players, and Coach Carlson even employs three former players at his insurance agency. ‘The Process’ not only creates an outstanding baseball program year in and year out, but a bond amongst teammates that carries them far past high school and into their adult lives.