Coug teammates reunite at Gesa

By Jack Millikin, Tri-City HeraldJune 18, 2012 

Just over a month ago, Derek Jones and Taylor Ard took the field at Gesa Stadium as members of the Washington State baseball team for the annual Cougar Classic.

Friday night, during Opening Night of the Northwest League, they both made their professional debut on the same field -- Jones with the Tri-City Dust Devils and Ard with the visiting Everett AquaSox.

"Every time (the Cougars) came here, I thought, 'This is what it's going to be like,' " said Jones, who was drafted in the eighth round by the Colorado Rockies in the First-year Player Draft in June and assigned to Tri-City. "I thought about how this would be the atmosphere for me in a little bit."

But did Jones, a 6-foot first baseman from Snohomish, ever imagine he'd be returning here to begin his pro career?

"I did think about it a little bit, like, 'What if I did play here?' " said Jones, who left WSU as the school's all-time home runs leader with 41.

By the way he hit in the Cougar Classic, you would imagine he's happy to be back. Jones played in both games in 2011 and 2012, combining to hit 3-for-8 with a run scored.

Ard, a first baseman drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round, also found success at Gesa Stadium during the Cougar Classic with a double, two RBIs and a run scored in two games.

"When I got taken by the Mariners, I thought I might get sent to Everett," said Ard, who led the Pac-12 with 10 home runs in 2011 and hit 12 more in 2012. "It's good to stay local and see people close to home."

In Friday's NWL opener, both players got a brief chance to catch up to each other after Jones -- the Dust Devils designated hitter -- was hit by a pitch in his first pro at bat to lead off the top of the sixth. When he arrived at first base, he saw his former WSU teammate Ard, who was making his first pro start in the field.

"I saw a picture of Taylor on first and me on the bases. Former teammates playing at the next level. If you step back, it's kind of cool," Jones said. "We could have been at opposite ends of the country, but there we are at first base chatting it up."

Ard also picked up his first professional hit Friday, a two-out, ninth-inning single between short and third in a 2-1 AquaSox win.

"It's good to get that first hit out of the way," said the 6-1 Vancouver (Wash.) native. "It's real exciting to get going and finish out the summer. Hopefully, I can do well enough to get promoted next season."

Matt Argyropoulos, a Tri-City third baseman who was drafted by the Rockies in the 27th round last season, was thrilled not only to see a former teammate join him in the Dust Devils clubhouse but also to see another former Coug in the opposite dugout.

"(In college) you're together 270 days out of the year. You're like brothers," said Argyropoulos, a Longview native who made two nice defensive plays Saturday night, grabbing two line drives out of the air at the hot corner to keep Everett players off the base paths. "We went through so many battles together at school. You know what the other guy is all about."

Players would talk about playing at the next level, Ard said, but they didn't imagine being fortunate enough to be playing in the same league, or even on the same team.

"You want to keep playing and chasing the dream," Ard said. "But we didn't imagine anything like this."

Jones said he's fortunate to be in this situation and values the chance to continue following the progress of his former teammates, not to mention his current ones.

"I'm fully supportive of Taylor, and I'm sure he is of me. Except for this week, I'm going to root for him wherever he goes," Jones said. "It's good to grow your player tree -- all the guys you've played with over the years -- and expand your baseball connections."

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