Facial hair and sports have long been a perfect pairing. If an athlete has the top facial hair in the game, it means automatic stardom, even if the talent isn’t up to snuff.
Gonzaga’s senior first baseman Jake Vieth has both. His beard has been a target of social media hashtags and when he crushes a home run, it is his alter ego that gets the credit. The Vieth name disappears from the world and his highlights are instead labeled with “The Beard” or just “Beard.”
But Vieth has accepted the moniker.
A nickname born in facial hair is one that only two Zags stars have had the honor of holding. First was Adam Morrison with “The ’Stache,” then Przemek Karnowski, who also carried “The Beard.”
“I don’t think about it a whole lot, but I would imagine with Karnowski being gone, now it’s put on me,” Vieth said.
The Tacoma native started growing his beard in the eighth grade, but it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he noticed no one else had quite as fuzzy of a face as he did. That is when the scraggly hair on his chin began to take shape. Since then, Vieth has always carried it with him.
“So used to it (now), if I didn’t have it, I would feel uncomfortable and naked without it,” Vieth said. “Recently I have had to start combing it, getting it not so crazy.”
But that is about the extent of maintenance he does on it.
Vieth was a multisport athlete growing up, focusing a lot on football and baseball. It wasn’t until junior year that he traded out his chinstraps for stirrups full time. Since then, baseball has been the focus.
“I wasn’t really interested in the other sports,” Vieth said. “Baseball was something I enjoyed, something I was good at and I didn’t want to do much else.”
Vieth’s grandfather played baseball and had a chance to play professionally. As is the case now, minor league ball isn’t a flourishing job for people who want to start a family. He needed a more stable and guaranteed job. That didn’t keep Vieth’s grandfather from passing the love of America’s pastime.
“I remember hitting those plastic balls with the big plastic bats (with his grandfather),” Vieth said. “Ever since then, it has been a part of my life.”
From mashing underhand Wiffle ball throws to slugging 90 mph fastballs 300-plus feet, Vieth has always been considered a power hitter.
“Ever since I started playing baseball, I have been naturally strong and the bigger kid than everybody else,” he said. “It was just kind of who I am, what I worked at and just owned it. Tried to be the best I can.”
Strong is a fair assessment. His 10 home runs this season are the most by a Zags hitter since 2012.
But his skills on the diamond do not exactly translate to his other favorite hobby: fly fishing.
“On the off days and anytime free that we get, I’ll go spend some time on the river to try and get away from it all,” Vieth said. “Just be out there with my thoughts and relax.”
It sounds like he and Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few, who is a fly fishing connoisseur, would get along just fine.
“I talked to (Few) a little bit in the weight room one morning and we were just talking and sharing stories,” Vieth said. “It was a pretty interesting talk.”
Just by looking at Vieth, one might assume he’d enjoy woodcutting or hunting. But next on the burly ballplayer’s list of activities is something quite different.
“I really enjoy pottery,” Vieth said. “I started doing that in high school and I was good at it. I loved it, so it is kind of something else I try to do when I can. But it is a little harder because the opportunities aren’t around.”
So if a ball is launched high and deep over Siebert Field’s fences in Minneapolis this weekend, it might be Vieth or it might be “The Beard.” Either way, it’s safe to assume the Bulldogs will be cheering from the dugout.
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