The amount of baseball talent that’s come through the Columbia Basin over the years has been nothing short of mind boggling.
There was of course the 1999 Major League Draft where three players from Moses Lake High School and an Ephrata star were among the first 63 players selected. BJ Garbe (fifth overall, Twins), Ryan Doumit (59th, Pirates), Jason Cooper (63rd, Phillies) and University of Washington standout Jeff Heaverlo (33rd, Mariners) from Ephrata were all selected.
Doumit enjoyed a 10-year career in the Major League with the Pirates, Twins and Braves.
The 1998 Columbia Basin River Dogs Babe Ruth team had seven guys selected in the MLB Draft, including Brian Skaug (Houston), Stefan Bailie (Boston), Gabe Boruff (Kansas City), Bryan Johnson (Baltimore), Doumit (Pittsburgh), Garbe (Minnesota) and Cooper (Phillies/Cleveland).
Big Bend Community College’s Gordon Corder, a two-time league MVP, went on to play at Gonzaga and later signed with the Oakland A’s.
There’s also been some pretty good amateurs over the years. Jorge Reyes (Warden) went to Oregon State and was the MVP of the College World Series. Michael Ratekin moved on to Washington State. Sonny Garza played at San Jose State.
The fact that many of them have made their way back when their playing days were done says a little something for the community and the lifestyle in central Washington.
Garbe is now the CEO of Ten Pin Brewing in Moses Lake. Doumit is headed into his second season as a Big Bend assistant baseball coach. Garza is now coaching at Othello and Heaverlo is over in Spokane, remaining in eastern Washington.
The Columbia Basin can add another former baseball star to its community. Former Big Bend standout Dustin Knight played a season for the Vikings (2002) en route to a career at North Carolina State, where he played on the Wolfpack team that eventually lost to Miami in the College World Series Super Regionals in 2003.
Knight (44th, White Sox, 2000 Draft) played just the one season in the Northwest Athletic Conference, but played with a fair amount of athletic talent while he was here. Knight, 36, moved back to Moses Lake in June and is a journeyman lineman at the utility district.
“My wife and I were living down in California and decided we wanted to come back,” said Knight, who played his high school ball at Kent-Meridian. “I’m an outdoor enthusiast. Here, you’re right in the center of everything. If I want to go salmon fishing, the Columbia River is right there, or if I want to go to the west side to fish, it’s not too far. I can head east over to the mountains over there. I haven’t gotten into bird hunting yet, but that’s the next big thing.”
Originally, Knight signed a national letter of intent with the University of Washington coming out of high school, but decided not to go to Seattle. In order to get out of the letter of intent, he had to play a season in junior college and Big Bend became the beneficiary of a big-time third baseman on his way to the NCAA.
He ended up playing for Donnie Lindgren, who was just named the Moses Lake High School manager, on a Viking program coming off the 2001 Eastern Division championship that tied for third in the NWAC tournament.
“The experience was awesome, honestly. The pressure isn’t the same as it was at the (NCAA level). I could just have fun playing with my buddies,” Knight said. “I thought Donnie was a good coach. I enjoyed the way he managed the practices and the structure of the program. We definitely had a good team chemistry.
“It seems like they always have a good group of guys coming through. I played with Gordon Corder. Gordon went to Gonzaga University and got drafted by the Oakland A’s. It was a lot of fun and some good memories.”
Knight went from one coast to the other the following season, joining a North Carolina State program that was No. 12 in the country in 2003. N.C. State was an ACC finalist and played in the CWS Super Regionals his first year. Knight hit .275 in 75 at-bats with four doubles and eight RBI.
The Wolfpack (45-18) ended up losing to the University of Miami 11-5 in 11 innings, falling one game short of earning a trip to the College World Series. Knight had an RBI-single in that game.
“That Super Regional was intense and some of the best ball you could be around,” he recalled. “I want to say six of the 10 ACC teams that year were ranked. That ACC tournament depleted the pitching and we had to go in and play at Coral Gables (Fla.)
“We were running on fumes and scraping along in order to survive. But I got to play against some big-time players like Ryan Braun (2011 National League MVP). It was pretty special.”
The following season, Knight finished with a .264 average in 44 games with 37 hits in 140 at-bats with five home runs.
He had a cup of coffee with the Chicago White Sox and chased the baseball dream just as far as it would take him. Now he’s back and living in the Columbia Basin again.
“I never did feel like I had Major League potential,” he said with a laugh. “Things definitely changed once I got into college, there was a lot more stress. But the overall experience was good. I always remember as a little kid all the way through junior college and college ball, that every aspect was fun to me. Showing up for practice, conditioning … if I could still be doing it right now, I would.
“But once I got out of baseball, I just let it go. I couldn’t even tell you who’s in the Major Leagues these days.”
Knight will be the first one to tell ya, dream big because you can get there from here.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer with the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org