I read with delight last week about former South Kitsap pitcher Lucas Knowles being promoted to Short Season A ball, the classification that mostly receives college players in their first year of professional baseball.
Knowles is certainly a long way from reaching what many call “The Show,” but the baseball fan and historian within me immediately wondered how many major leaguers played high school ball in Kitsap.
And why not? It’s August and the Mariners are playing for 2021, so let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
Some of the names you’ll find here are easy to remember — Aaron Sele was a member of North Kitsap’s 1988 state championship team. Willie Bloomquist quarterbacked the 1994 state championship South Kitsap football team, and then along with future major leaguer Jason Ellison, led the Wolves to a baseball championship in 1996.
Others are more obscure. Silverdale High School (before it became Central Kitsap) sent not one — but two — players to Major League Baseball in the 1930s and 1940s, and Bremerton High School had three players in the majors before the 1957 East-West split.
Hopefully, this list is comprehensive, but records can be sparse, especially when going as far back as the 1920s. If anyone was omitted, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make note of it in a future column.
Aaron Sele, North Kitsap (1988)
The sole Viking on the list, Sele is also the only member to win a state championship and a World Series ring. He was part of the starting rotation for the 2002 Anaheim Angels but was injured late in the year and did not pitch during the postseason. Sele went 18-9 for the Texas Rangers in 1999 and finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting. At North Kitsap, he was part of the 1988 state championship team and his catcher was current NK head coach Jeff Weible.
Willie Bloomquist, South Kitsap (1996)
Bloomquist played 14 seasons in Major League Baseball, including nine with the Mariners, mostly in a part-time utility role. He did get 434 plate appearances in 2009 for the Kansas City Royals and hit .265 that year with four home runs and 29 RBI. His career also included a Pac-10 MVP award at Arizona State. At South Kitsap, he hit over .460 during the Wolves’ run to the 1996 3A state championship and spent his fall as the signal-caller for Ed Fisher’s legendary football teams.
Jason Hammel, South Kitsap (2000)
Hammel announced his retirement from baseball just a few months ago, finishing up a solid 13-season career. In 2016, he went 15-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 166.2 innings with the Chicago Cubs. Although he was not on the postseason roster, Hammel did earn a World Series ring when the Cubs broke the Curse of the Billygoat. Hammel’s 2000 South Kitsap team won the last of six consecutive Narrows League titles and went 20-1, losing to Sehome at regionals.
Todd Linden, Central Kitsap (1998)
The Giants selected Linden 41st overall (a supplemental pick in the first round) after he blasted SEC pitching at Louisiana State University to the tune of a .312 batting average with 20 homers and 76 RBI. The switch-hitting outfielder put up some outstanding seasons in the minor leagues — he hit 30 home runs in the Pacific Coast League in 2005 — and showed occasional flashes of that talent at the major league level. The Florida Marlins waived him in 2007 after he hit .271 and recorded a .347 on-base percentage in 144 plate appearances.
Jason Ellison, South Kitsap (1996)
A contemporary of Bloomquist, Ellison was a dominant pitcher who went 20-0 in three years at South Kitsap. A 22nd-round pick out of Lewis-Clark State College, he spent his professional career as a speedy outfielder but had a tough time cracking the San Francisco Giants lineup. He stole 14 bases in 2005 and hit .264 to go along with 18 doubles, four homers and 24 RBIs. He received more than half of his career 609 plate appearances that year.
Aaron Cunningham, South Kitsap (2004)
Cunningham played on Elton Goodwin’s final team at South Kitsap, which won the 2003 4A state championship. Two years later, the Chicago White Sox selected him in the sixth round out of Everett Community College. He mashed 57 home runs over his first three seasons in the minors and went 2 for 4 in his major league debut in 2008 with the Oakland Athletics, having been traded twice in the span of six months in 2007. In fact, he was part of a major trade that sent starting pitcher Dan Haren, who was in the prime of an excellent career, to Arizona. Cunningham’s best year came in San Diego in 2010, where he put up a slash line of .288/.331/.417 in 101 plate appearances.
Sean Spencer, South Kitsap (1993)
Rounding out the group of Wolves is Sean Spencer, who made 10 appearances as a relief pitcher over two seasons with the Mariners and the Montreal Expos. He had a career 3.23 ERA in the minor leagues and averaged better than one strikeout per inning over eight seasons. He had Tommy John surgery during his career at the University of Washington and was drafted by the Mariners in the 40th round in 1996.
Andy Anderson, Silverdale (1940)
Like many baseball players during this era, Anderson’s career was interrupted by World War II. He was held as a prisoner of war in Germany until his liberation in 1945. The St. Louis Browns had signed him out of high school and he returned to the organization in 1946. A reserve infielder, Anderson reached the majors in 1948 and hit .276 for the Browns. His career ended in the minor leagues in 1954.
Joe Sullivan, Silverdale (1928)
Sullivan was a three-sport athlete in high school, excelling in basketball and football as well as baseball. After seven in years in semipro and minor league baseball, Sullivan made his major league debut five years later for the Detroit Tigers, who would go on to win the 1935 World Series over the Chicago Cubs. Sullivan made 12 starts that year and 13 relief appearances, pitching to a 3.51 ERA and a 6-6 record, but he suffered from control problems and was eventually relegated to long relief. He retired in 1949 and later became Puget Sound Naval Shipyard fire chief.
Ted Tappe, Bremerton (1948)
Tappe is most likely the only player in Kitsap County history to have homered in his first major league at-bat. He did so at the age of 19 as a pinch-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds in 1950. After two seasons and eight plate appearances with the Reds, Tappe resurfaced with the Cubs in 1955 and hit .260 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 63 plate appearances. He finished his brief career with a .953 OPS. In addition to his exploits as a baseball player, Tappe was a local legend in Bremerton as a member of the 1947 state championship football team.
Gale Wade, Bremerton (1947)
A two-sport star (he served as Bremerton’s main running back), Wade signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers out of high school. He didn’t reach the majors until 1955 with the Chicago Cubs and was teammates there with Ted Tappe, who also attended Bremerton and graduated one year later. Wade only had 19 career plate appearances to his name but he did play 15 seasons in the minors.
Leo Taylor, Bremerton (likely 1919)
Kitsap’s own version of Moonlight Graham (whose story was made famous in the movie Field of Dreams), Taylor’s MLB career began and ended on May 3, 1923, when he pinch ran for the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in the bottom of the eighth inning for Roy Graham, who was pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Ted Blankenship. He was replaced by a relief pitcher in the ninth and never got to hit or play the field — that marked his only appearance in “the Bigs.”