This isn’t your older-brother-by-five-minutes’ Diamond Classic.
When the Washington State and Washington baseball teams hit Gesa Stadium in Pasco, it won’t be a one-stop pop like in 2011 at the premier DC event or last year against Portland.
Well, actually, it will be a little like those events since the Cougars will play both the Huskies and Pilots. But this time around, NCAA Division I college ball will spend four sparkling days in the Tri-Cities.
First, the Cougs (21-27, 8-16) and Huskies (19-31, 10-14) play a three-game Pac-12 set starting at 6 p.m. today. Games 2 and 3 are 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Then, WSU and Portland (18-32) play at noon Monday in a nonconference tilt.
The annual event is first and foremost a chance for the Cougars to put a shinning finish on a tough season, perhaps take a couple games off their rivals before wrapping up the season next week with Oregon State.
But for several locals on the WSU roster, it’s a chance to lace ’em up in front of family and friends at their ol’ stomping grounds.
“It’s awesome,” said red-shirt junior first baseman Brett Jacobs, four years removed from wearing Richland Bombers green and gold and winning state titles in 2007 and ’09. “Me, Trek and Matt, obviously coming back, we’re loving it. We grew up and all played baseball (here) our whole lives. It’s an awesome feeling for all three of us and for the whole team coming down here. Those are great fans.”
Jacobs, Trek Stemp (Kennewick) and Matt Mendenhall (Southridge) all are active for this weekend’s games. Southridge twins Ty and Bryce Jackson red-shirted for the Cougs this season after suffering shoulder and elbow injuries. Ty Jackson had Tommy John surgery on his elbow and expects to be ready to play next spring, though it will be in Lewiston after the first baseman/pitcher signed to go to NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State College. Bryce Jackson, his shoulder back to 100 percent, will return to WSU in the fall.
The turnout for WSU’s games in the Tri-Cities has been off the charts — an estimated 2,500 last year after selling out 3,714 seats in 2011. Whether those numbers can hold over four games is yet to be seen, but attendance figures to top the 600-800 that regularly attend games at Pullman’s Bailey-Brayton Field.
And along with the multitude of crimson and gray for the Cougs and purple and gold for the Huskies will be a smattering of Richland green and gold, Kennewick black and orange and Southridge navy and gold.
“It’s probably been since last year here playing in front of a true home crowd, in front of friends and family,” Stemp said.
Jacobs is having a strong year despite battling that same wrist that cost him last season. He is hitting .342 in 37 games (38-for-111) with six doubles, 16 RBIs and 13 runs scored. He’s been WSU’s hottest hitter in conference play, going .404 (21-for-52) in Pac-12 games.
Stemp is having a good freshman campaign despite a hip injury that has cost him some of his trademark speed and will cost him a shot at summer ball with surgery in his future. He is hitting .333 (44-for-132) with six doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
Mendenhall, also a freshman, has been platooning in the outfield. He has yet to find the key to college pitching, hitting .087 (2-for-23). But he has played in 21 games (four starts) and got his first career RBI in Monday’s 7-6 loss to UC Santa Barbara.
Stemp, a multiple MVP and player of the year in high school, said he has reveled in the challenge of Division I baseball.
“In high school, I’d go into every game feeling confident I could get three hits,” he said. “We’d have a competition to see who could get more hits. Now, you have to be on your game every day. Just to get two hits in a game is unbelievable in the Pac-12.
“It makes my game better, too. You have to be ready every single game and play your best.”