For as long as Kelly Fitzpatrick can remember, he’s always loved baseball.
“I always felt comfortable,” Fitzpatrick said. “It may seem weird, but whenever I played football I liked it, but didn’t enjoy it. Basketball and hockey were the same way. When I had a bad (baseball) game, I’d get mad, but still loved it and kept wanting to play.”
That is all one needs to know to explain why the Mt. Spokane lefty is one of the best pitchers in the Greater Spokane League and has signed to play baseball at Washington State University.
Greater Spokane League baseball, weather permitting, begins with a couple of pivotal back-to-back series today and Friday. The Wildcats face one of the preseason title choices, Gonzaga Prep, and defending champion Ferris plays Mead, another team coaches expect to contend.
They also say they expect a wide-open league. Fitzpatrick concurs.
“I don’t think one team this year can blow out every team they play,” he said. “Every team, I kind of see it, is weak in one spot. Where they have solid pitching their hitting is weak. Or a good-hitting team has one good pitcher.”
In Fitzpatrick, Mt. Spokane has a good one.
He said WSU came to watch a player from a rival American Legion team during a game the summer after his sophomore year. They ended up liking the young pitcher from the opposing team. He heard it by word of mouth and chose the Cougars for a variety of reasons.
“I liked the distance. It was close to my family,” Fitzpatrick said. “I loved how Pullman is a smaller town.”
The fact that the program is well-regarded and plays in the Pac-12 were other selling points. He signed last November.
Fitzpatrick was moved up to Mt. Spokane’s varsity midway through his freshman year because of an injury to another Wildcats pitcher. By the time Fitzpatrick graduates he will likely hold all the school pitching records, coach Alex Schuerman said.
He’s five away in career wins (with 11 wins, pitching mainly one day a week), second all time in strikeouts (just 19 away from the record of 168) and the Wildcats’ single-season record holder with 79 (including 11 strikeouts Saturday in four innings against Post Falls).
“He’s a tough pitcher,” Schuerman said. “I would say he throws 85 miles per hour, maybe 86. While a right-hander needs to throw harder, they try and find guys who throw 86-88 as a lefty. (WSU) probably said we’ve got to grab this guy.
“He’s really poised and really calm. He’s wanted to be a pitcher since age 12.”
Fitzpatrick said he began playing at the youngest age possible. Even back then he began thinking about a college scholarship.
By eighth grade, Fitzpatrick said, pitching was his thing.
“I knew he was going to be good,” Schuerman said, “but I always thought he’d be more of a crafty-type lefty. I didn’t envision him throwing 86. He worked hard, got stronger, and his velocity took off.”
Left-handers tend to be hard to hit anyway. Having a wicked fastball – his strikeout pitch in the GSL, the 6-foot, 195-pound Fitzpatrick said – and good control makes him doubly difficult to touch. Over the years he’s added a good change-up and his curve and slider have improved.
That is what WSU sees in him.
“I think every kid grows up wanting to make it in some professional sport,” Fitzpatrick said. “As I got older I wanted to play college for three or four years. After that we’ll see what happens.”
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