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Spokane Indians

Middleton doing duty first with Spokane Indians

Spokane Indians catcher Clayton Middleton waits his turn in the batting cage before a game. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Wearing a uniform is nothing new in Clayton Middleton’s family. But a baseball uniform, that’s a different story.

Middleton, a catcher for the Spokane Indians, is the first person in his family not to enlist in the military straight out of high school and the first to play a college sport.

“If it wasn’t for baseball, I’d probably be in the military as well,” Middleton said. “I’m the first member in my family to do quite a bit and there is a lot to ride on, so hopefully I can fulfill it.”

Middleton said he always imagined himself following in his family’s footsteps, joining one of the five military branches (family members are mostly Air Force and Army veterans, while his grandfather was a Marine.) His parents thought Middleton would be better served by going to college first, so he could be an officer.

Ultimately, baseball got in the way of any plans of joining the military.

He enrolled at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he played four seasons (although his sophomore season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery). He was drafted by the Rangers in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft.

This season with the Indians, playing time has been hard to come by for the Olvida, Florida, native, with four catchers on the Indians roster. Middleton has only played in 18 games this season, hitting .222 with two home runs and three RBIs.

His offensive numbers don’t account for his work behind the plate, where he’s impressed coaches.

“Clayton’s got some great leadership intangibles,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “He manages the pitchers, manages the game and he has a very good idea of how things are supposed to operate.”

The key for Middleton is knowing his role. He knows how to make contributions to the team, even without being in the lineup every night.

“I took my ego to the side and do what’s best for the team,” Middleton said. “I’m a big winner, I don’t really like to lose. I do whatever I can to win.”

It’s also not uncommon to see Middleton joking around with teammates and boosting morale in the clubhouse. He especially likes to pal around with Indians catcher Carlos Garay and infielder Brallan Perez, even though there is a language barrier.

“I’m lucky enough that Brallan and Garay’s English is phenomenal,” Middleton said. “They’re adapting and I’m going to try to adapt to them this offseason and learn some Spanish for them.

“That’ll also help me out on the mound if I need to talk to a pitcher and need to speak some Spanish. … They can adapt, I know I can.”

With his unreserved personality, Middleton is one of the most social players on the Indians. And his family’s military background embodies that, he says.

“It made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change anything about myself or what my parents did for me,” Middleton said.

Indians back after tumultuous trip

After being swept by Eugene is their last home series, the Indians went 1-7 in an eight-game road trip, capped off with a five-game series sweep at Hillsboro.

Spokane is riding a seven-game losing streak and has lost 12 of their last 13 games. The Indians are last in the Northwest League North second-half standings with a 9-18 record.

The Indians host Tri-City for a three-game series on Friday, followed by a five-game home series with Hillsboro before ending the regular season with a three-game series at Everett.

AquaSox likely playoff opponent

The Indians, who clinched a playoff spot by winning the Northwest League North first-half title, will likely face Everett in the first round of the playoffs.

The AquaSox (20-7) are 10 games ahead of Tri-City and Vancouver in the NWL’s second half, and are one win away from clinching the North Division’s second playoff spot.