April 21, 2012 in Washington Voices

Baseball in their blood

Love of game, WV natural for Hunters
Steve Christilaw schristilaw@msn.com
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Harry Wells, left, and Hunter Wells are key members of the West Valley baseball team this season. Their connections to WV athletics go way back. Their mother Peggy, is considered one of the best athletes the school has ever produced and their father, Ken, is a longtime coach in his own right.
(Full-size photo)

If there’s such a thing as a baseball gene, Harrison and Hunter Wells have it. And if you run a blood test, you’ll likely find West Valley black and orange running in their veins.

“Baseball is just something you do in our family,” Harry explained. “I don’t think there was ever a decision made about us playing baseball. We just did it. It’s part of who we are.”

It has the brothers, second-generation Eagles, leading West Valley into the thick of the Great Northern League baseball race as the regular season heads into its final week. Senior Harry is a power-hitting first baseman who already has slugged four monster home runs for coach Don O’Neal. Junior Hunter is a slick-fielding, three-year starter at shortstop wielding a hot bat of his own.

“The two of them are 100 percent different,” the coach said. “Harry is one of the most calm and methodical players I’ve ever had. He has to work at the game – it doesn’t necessarily come easily to him. And he works hard at it. Hunter, on the other hand, is a total natural. He’s more of a free spirit and he’s excitable.”

Each has played as an important cog for West Valley this season.

“Harry has really put it together this year with his bat,” O’Neal said. “I don’t know of anyone with more home runs than he has and he’s just hitting the ball well for us. Hunter has been our starting shortstop since he got here as a freshman – he was so small then that we had to use a designated hitter for him because he was too little to swing a bat.”

The brothers come by their talent naturally – same with their school ties.

Their father, Ken Wells, was a pitcher at Centralia Community College and is a longtime coach in the Central Valley School District. Their mother, Peggy Wells, was a standout softball player at West Valley, earning MVP honors in the Greater Spokane League and Frontier League while helping the Eagles to a second-place state tournament finish.

“I think they come by their love of baseball naturally,” the former Peggy Almquist said. “Their grandfather used to pitch, their dad used to pitch and their uncle, Mike, pitched at West Valley.”

And their mom played a big part in Mike Almquist’s development into one of the school’s all-time best pitchers.

“I remember Mike coming home with a catcher’s mitt that he bought at a yard sale for $3,” she recalled with a laugh. “I was his backyard catcher all the time I was growing up!”

Both Harry and Hunter pitch in relief for West Valley, although O’Neal insists it’s harder to find innings for Hunter than for Harry.

“I would love to have Hunter pitch more often, but we don’t have another shortstop,” he said. “If it didn’t take away from our infield, he’d definitely throw more for us.”

When Hunter does pitch, it’s like a walk down memory lane.

“My mom will come watch the boys play – she sits in her car to watch,” Peggy Wells said. “When Hunter pitches he looks just like Mike. Mike always had that high leg kick when he pitched and Hunter does exactly the same thing. It’s pretty nice that we have a reminder of Mike like that.”

Mike Almquist was killed in a garage fire in 2002.

“It really is pretty cool that we have a family history at West Valley,” Harry said. “We grew up hearing those stories about our parents and about our aunts and uncles. We’re both proud to be carrying on that legacy.”

The legacy does extend beyond the diamond. Uncle Allan Almquist was a state wrestling champion for the Eagles as a senior in 1984, and uncle Don Almquist played basketball at the University of Idaho in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A three-sport standout athlete, Peggy Wells, who graduated in 1985, is a former teacher at West Valley and was the school’s volleyball coach from 1994 to ’96, leading the Eagles to the state Class 2A tournament, before stepping down to devote more time to her young family.

Still, diamonds and ball fields are an integral part of their immediate family history.

“I met their father playing softball,” Peggy Wells said. “We must have played 20 years of softball together. Ken probably started coaching the boys when they were in the second or third grade.

“All the time the boys were growing up, they’d put on whiffle ball tournaments in the backyard and we always had baseball games going most nights during the summer. The boys were never all that into playing video games or anything else. They were just into playing baseball and I think that was a great way to grow up.”

And, she added, it’s been special watching the brothers have one final season together at West Valley.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen after this year,” Harry said. “I’ve talked to some college coaches, so I think I could find a place to play. But the schools that I’m interested in don’t have a baseball program. My mom and dad are both teachers and they’ve instilled that desire to get a good education in us, so making sure I go to the right school is more important to me than playing baseball – strange as that is for me to say.”

With weather turning the league schedule into more of a wish list than a guide, the Eagles aren’t entirely sure where they stand as they prepare take a weekend off (it’s prom weekend at West Valley and O’Neal tries to schedule the team’s bye week as an accommodation).

“We’ve been pretty lucky this year because we haven’t had to reschedule very many games,” Harry said. “But some schools still have a lot to make up so we don’t really know where we stand. We could be anywhere from first to fourth by the time we play Medical Lake Tuesday.”

No matter where the team stands, the brothers are excited for the chance to play post-season baseball.

“Before this year, I used to want someone else to be at the plate in a big, game-winning situation,” Harry said. “But for the first time this year, I want to be that guy. I want the bat in my hands when the game’s on the line. I’m excited about getting that chance in the playoffs, because we’ve got a good team.”


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