May 3, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: Pirates coach Ramsay one for ages

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Dan Ramsay has the Pirates in their first NCAA Division III tournament after winning the Northwest Conference title for the first time in 21 years.
(Full-size photo)

Pirates’ numbers

Record: 26-13-1 overall, 19-5 in NWC

Streaks: Won last six conference games; longest losing streak is two

Late leads: Pirates 25-1 when leading after eighth inning

Scoring: Whits 22-3-1 when scoring at least six runs

This replays itself probably once a season anyway, even now. The umpires come to the ballpark for the Saturday doubleheader, make their way to the Whitworth Pirates dugout and encounter Dan Ramsay.

“Where’s your coach?” one of them will ask.

“You’re talking to him,” Ramsay will answer.

An awkward beat follows, and then, “How old are you, anyway?” the ump will demand.

He is 26. He could pass for 16. But in baseball years, well, Dan Ramsay is ageless, an old soul in a game that can make rookies of us all.

“I have a lot to learn,” he said, “but I hope to be saying the same thing when I’m 70.”

Here’s one thing he’ll learn: A dozen or more championships may follow, but it’s unlikely to get better than it was last weekend when an 8-7 escape over Whitman and the traditional “glove shower” launched the celebration of Whitworth’s first Northwest Conference title in 21 years and first trip to the NCAA Division III tournament.

There are any number of compelling elements to this season’s little miracle at Merkel Field – the Whits being picked sixth in the NWC’s preseason poll, the seven freshmen who are every-gamers or in the starting rotation, the heavy Spokane tilt to the lineup card.

But it’s Ramsay’s own story that’s as irresistible as any, what with its Doogie Howser, Baseball Coach touch.

Because if you think Ramsay looks young now, imagine his face four years ago when he knocked on former athletic director Scott McQuilkin’s door to ask if it would be nuts to apply for the open coaching job.

McQuilkin smiled broadly.

“I wouldn’t call you nuts,” he told Ramsay. “There’s another guy who did that back in the day.”

That would be McQuilkin himself, who in 1984 became Whitworth’s baseball coach at age 22.

But here’s the thing about Ramsay: His degree wouldn’t post for months yet, and he still could have played another year.

Ramsay spent his first two years out of Mead High School at Gonzaga before transferring across town and catching for the Pirates. But when coach Keith Ward decided to step down in 2008, Ramsay thought better of breaking in yet another coach and figured he’d start his own career. He’d landed a job at Silverton High School in Oregon when he had the what-the-heck inspiration to interview with McQuilkin – mostly for the experience of it.

“And I knocked it out of the park,” Ramsay said.

In fact, when McQuilkin asked why he should hire a 22-year-old, Ramsay’s response was, “Well, somebody had to give John Wooden his first job.” It got the intended laugh.

Let’s be clear – McQuilkin didn’t just hire the first guy through the door. He interviewed nine candidates; Ramsay was the one he kept coming back to.

“One of my mentors, Bill Robinson, always said, ‘Hire talent,’ ” McQuilkin said. “I think we often weigh experience more heavily than we should – and I knew if we didn’t get Dan then, we’d never get him.”

He may have never ordered up a hit-and-run, but Ramsay did have experience. His father, Scott, is a former Whitworth player – and McQuilkin’s old roommate on those long-ago road trips – and now serves as the Northwest scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals. That job has taken him, and his tag-along son, to more summertime ballparks than the supplier who delivers Diamond Dry.

“I had zero reservations about how much I know about this game,” Ramsay said. “I’ve been around it my entire life, and the highest levels of it.”

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his what-now moments when he sat down in his office chair.

His first team won 10 games, the second 13. Recruiting took a big swoon before he focused on local talent. He walked around Whitworth’s athletic department still feeling more like a student and then went to the field to coach players who had been his teammates – including his brother.

“With the wrong guys, it could have blown up in my face – but they were the right guys,” he said. “But it was hard – I was 22 and not allowed to hang out with my friends because they were all on the team. I was doing a lot of reading and going to bed early.”

So he balanced that necessary distance by getting closer to his freshman class – this year’s seniors. Those are the faces he remembers from the team huddle before Sunday’s clincher.

“I’m looking at guys who seen where we were and where we’ve come,” Ramsay said. “That’s a great thing to share. It’s just my first group. Some coaches have had 50 of them.”

Fifty? Maybe some day Dan Ramsay will be reflecting on such a number.

And someone will still be asking him, “How old are you, anyway?” Except they’ll say it in a completely different way.

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