River Dogs moving closer to historic first meeting in the World Series

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EPHRATA — The possibility of the two Columbia Basin River Dog teams meeting in the Senior Babe Ruth League World Series seemed like a faraway dream when it all started on Saturday, like the wildfire smoke hovering in the wind.

But ya know, it’s rapidly becoming a real possibility.

The Moses Lake River Dogs (the U16 White team) secured the No. 2 seed out of the National pool. The Columbia Basin River Dogs, like the Little Dogs, overcame a first-round loss to nail down the No. 2 seed in the American pool. It’s been spectacular baseball so far and Columbia Basin fans can only dream big at the idea of seeing both teams play each other in the championship game.

There’s still some baseball to be played with the quarterfinals on Thursday. Top-seeded Charleston, Mo., and Mid-County from Nederland, Texas might have a little something to say in the semifinals on Friday.

But a guy can dream, can’t he?

“There’s been two teams make it to the World Series before (in 2014), but we’ve never played before,” said Columbia Basin River Dogs manager and tournament host president Randy Boruff. “It’d be crazy (if we did meet in the championship).”

Jason Cooper, who was part of the River Dogs World Series championship in 1998, agreed.

“If they do meet, it would be historic. It says a lot for the program and the quality of players coming through,” said Cooper in a telephone interview on his way to Toronto. “When we played, we had to run the gamut (district, state, regionals) all the way to the World Series. We’ve hosted tournaments before and the local team was a host team. But at the end of the day, you still have to win the games and if you don’t belong, it gets exposed pretty easily.

“Teams are coming from all over the country and everybody can play, so it would be pretty special to see two River Dogs play for a championship.”

I finally caught up with the fourth guy from the Columbia Basin that went in the top 63 in that special 1999 MLB Draft, Jeff Heaverlo from Ephrata. In that 1999 draft, BJ Garbe (fifth overall), Heaverlo (33rd), Ryan Doumit (59th) and Cooper (63rd) proved to the world the quality of ballplayers coming out of the Columbia Basin is something special.

Heaverlo’s living in the Spokane Valley these days and settled into a job at Dick’s Sporting goods and enjoying a good round of golf when he can.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve sort of distanced myself from baseball over the years. I have people come into the store and want to talk about the Mariners. I haven’t watched a game in years,” said Heaverlo, who played on the very first Columbia Basin River Dogs team in 1995. “I wish the River Dogs the best of luck in this tournament. It’s always nice to see a local team be successful. But I probably won’t be burning up the internet watching the games.”

Heaverlo is a little older than the three guys that were selected out of Moses Lake High School in ‘99, having been drafted out of Washington University that same year. He made it all the way to Triple A ball with Tacoma. He spent time in Major League spring training. He had the talent, just didn’t get the call.

Heaverlo’s old school. He believes in the hard work and discipline behind the success. Anything in this world worth having is paid for with sweat and grit, hours in the batting cage, hours on the practice mound.

To this day Heaverlo calls longtime Washington and River Dog coach Dave Johnson “mister.” That’s the way he was brought up. That’s just the way he is.

“I’m a ’70s and ’80s kind of guy. I still call him Mr. Johnson or Ccoach Johnson because I respect him that much,” Heaverlo said. “I moved over here from Auburn when I was in 10th grade. When the rest of the people were calling me a ‘Coastie,’ he was the one that gave me a chance and I’ll never forget Mr. Johnson for that. Every now and then I call him up just to see how he’s doing.”

If Mr. Johnson has his way, he’ll be coaching against the Little Dogs in the Senior Babe Ruth World Series on Saturday.

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer with the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com.

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