BREMERTON — Logan O’Neil has been challenged plenty of times in his life. The strong, competitive, soon-to-be junior at Olympic High has always been able to answer the call on the field.
Last year, when Olympic was playing at Safeco Field in the High School Baseball Classic, then-head coach Nate Andrews looked to O’Neil to eat up a couple of innings to preserve his starters for a crowded upcoming schedule.
There O’Neil was, a freshman making his varsity debut on the same mound that has seen Seattle Mariners greats such as Felix Hernandez dominate professional hitters. O’Neil threw two scoreless innings and earned the victory as Olympic defeated Sedro-Woolley.
O’Neil handled the situation the way he has everything else — with maturity that belies his age, and with focus and confidence. But now he faces a far greater challenge away from the pitcher’s mound and outside the foul lines. On June 27, his father, Sean, lost his battle with cancer.
“I think the hardest thing for me is, mainly whenever I pitch, if I strike someone out, I’ll still look in the stands,” O’Neil said. “That’ll probably be the hardest part.”
Ever the competitor — a trait he shares with his father — O’Neil went out two days later and toed the rubber for his summer travel team, the DeMarini Renegades. He combined with teammate Chandler Lindstrom to throw a no-hitter in a 9-0 victory. The Renegades went 4-0 that
weekend, and O’Neil tossed a total of five innings and struck out seven. They qualified for the state championship on July 16 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
“He would want me to keep on playing,” O’Neil said. “He wouldn’t want anything to get in the way. He just wanted me to go to practice, work hard and be successful.
“During that whole tournament, after he passed, I was saying … I knew in my head that he was going to help us make it to the championship. I was saying that the whole time.”
The Renegades are a 15U team made up of underclass varsity players mostly from Kitsap County. Schools represented on the team include North Kitsap, Olympic, Central Kitsap and South Kitsap. While some teams, especially North Kitsap and Olympic, have an intense, competitive rivalry during the spring high school season, those same games become the subject of playful banter around the batting cages in the summer.
“When high school season is over, they put on these jerseys and they’re teammates,” said Steve Dickey, the Renegades’ head coach, who also is the head varsity coach at Bremerton.
And as news of Sean O’Neil’s worsening health made its way to the team, they responded as teammates do.
Before an early season game at Bellarmine Prep, the players, except for O’Neil, made their way to the field early. By the time O’Neil made his way down the path to the field, the entire team was linked arm-in-arm with shirts that read “S.O. Strong” with “#TeamONeil” underneath.
“At first I was jogging to the field because I was late, but I found out my ride was supposed to be late,” O’Neil said. “I thought it was really cool that everyone was in and they all did that.”
“It means a lot to me,” O’Neil said. “It shows that they care.”
The team also came to a collective decision to donate tournament fees to the O’Neil family to help pay for the wake. They also decided not to play the weekend of July 6-8 in order to be there for Logan during his father’s funeral.
“I think that just shows the kind of people they are and the parents they all have,” Dickey said. “This is bigger than baseball.”
‘He’ll help me get there’
Just a day before his father’s funeral, O’Neil was going through his usual routine at Area 29, the Renegades’ practice facility. He threw off the mound, hit off the tee, and gently ribbed both his teammates for some outlandish claims and himself for his inability to hit a ball to the opposite field during a drill.
O’Neil himself would also make a bold assertion — that if he made proper contact, he could hit a ball over the fence at Cheney Stadium, the home of the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, much to the amusement of his teammates. A chorus of light-hearted doubt from those around him soon kicked in.
His coaches have taken note of his ability to both take practice seriously and also have fun and joke around, especially while enduring such a difficult time in his life.
“He’s just been a rock through the whole thing,” Dickey said. “You’d never know anything is going on in his personal life.
Andrews, who coached him at Olympic the past two seasons, said his love of the game of baseball has always been evident, but it also became something of a sanctuary for him.
“I can’t even imagine trying to stay focused on school, and then go out and concentrate and play a sport with everything that has gone on in his personal life,” Andrews said. “I really admired how he went about that.”
O’Neil and the Renegades will soon be back on the field. They have a 10 a.m. date July 16 with PC Diamond Jaxx 2020s with a 16U state championship on the line. Lately, his most fervent supporter hadn’t been able to make as many games. O’Neil said he missed the rides home with his father as the two would spend time talking about the games. But they eventually found a substitute for those long drives around western Washington.
“As soon as I’d get home, I’d go sit on the bed next to him, and I’d tell him how the game went, how I did, and the team did and everything,” O’Neil said.
With memories to hold and the support of his team, O’Neil will take the field for one of the biggest games of his life on Monday. Though the lineup card has yet to be released, O’Neil had one more prediction for himself that he let his teammates in on during practice.
“I’m going to say that [my father] is going to help me do well,” O’Neil said. “My prediction was I said I was going to go 5 1/3. He’ll help me get there.”