by Steve Mims
Ryan Escover got some pitching advice from Blake Snell in the offseason.
The former American League Cy Young Award winner spent much of the winter working out at Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle. His dad, Dave Snell, is the Dolphins baseball coach.
“Because of the MLB lockout, he was here practicing for about three months,” Escover said of Snell, a left-handed pitcher for the San Diego Padres who won the Cy Young for Tampa Bay in 2018. “It was super cool to have him around.”
A 2019 graduate of Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., Escover is competing in his first full season of college baseball. His first season was cut short by COVID and Shoreline elected not to play last year due to the pandemic, leaving the right-handed pitcher a freshman in eligibility this season.
Escover will spend his summer playing for the Springfield Drifters in the West Coast League. The Drifters’ inaugural season begins on May 31 before they open the Hamlin Sports Complex against Cowlitz on June 3.
He was slated to play for the Bend Elks last year before electing to participate on a travel team closer to home.
“I have been to a lot of West Coast League games and I have buddies who have played in the league,” Escover said. “Our team travelled all last summer and that quickly made me learn that I love that kind of baseball. Being on the road and visiting different towns, the brand of baseball in the West Coast League will be so good.”
Escover had five saves as Shoreline started this season 15-3, but then came a 16-game losing streak that limited his opportunities out of the bullpen. In the last nonconference game of the season, Escover made a pickoff move to first base and suffered a partial tear of his meniscus on the play.
He has been able to pitch through the injury and plans to compete for the Drifters before likely having surgery following the WCL schedule.
Escover was a pitcher and catcher in high school before focusing on the mound at Shoreline. With a fastball that can him 91 or 92 miles per hour, he feels comfortable working as a starter or in relief.
His development as a pitcher was interrupted by COVID when there was nowhere to play for about six months. He recently threw eight innings of relief in an extra-inning game.
“My arm is definitely conditioned to throw a full 95 or 100 pitches if needed,” Escover said.
Escover and the Dolphins recently won eight of 11 games as he hopes to lead the team to the playoffs before joining the Drifters in a few weeks.
Rob Neyer was putting the finishing touches on his seventh book in the spring of 2018 when the West Coast League came calling for a commissioner.
The famed baseball author was surprised and intrigued at the thought of running a summer baseball league.
“To be frank, it completely blindsided me when the league expressed interest,” Neyer said. “How many baseball writers get to be commissioner of a highly-regarded league? The answer is, almost none. It was nothing I ever imagined at the time.”
Never spent 15 years as one of the most prolific writers for ESPN before moving on to write for SB Nation and Fox Sports. He was living in Portland and completing the book “Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game” when the WCL reached out to him about a job.
“I was finishing up a book and didn’t have any other writing gigs lined up when they approached me,” he said. “I had nothing else planned over the next few months, so I had a free summer. If nothing else, it was something to do for the summer. I had no ambitions for the future because I was in an unknown place, so I thought I would do this for three months and see what happens next.”
The job was originally presented to Neyer as basically a part-time opportunity.
“I was going to visit all the teams and ballparks in the season, which was something I obviously looked forward to,” he recalled last week. “Who wouldn’t want to visit West Coast baseball venues, including some that I had not seen before. That was a thrill to travel around the Northwest and visit Kelowna, Victoria and Port Angeles, places I had never been before.”
The other major part of the job dealt with disciplinary matters.
“That was the part that had to get done right away,” Neyer said. “Everything else, I could put off a few days but that was the part that somebody had to be on top of. I was told there would not be much of that, but there turned out to be a lot of those things. I have a passion for baseball history which is steeped in principles of player discipline, and coach and manager and front office discipline. The things that you are expected to do for a league to operate in a professional manner. I took that seriously.”
Both Neyer and the league soon realized that commissioner was not a part-time job. He now enters his fifth year on the job after COVID cancelled the 2020 season and forced the league to play on without its Canadian teams last year.
“I realized that I could not continue to do this if the league considered it to be a part-time job and they did not consider it a part-time job, so we found away to make it work for me and for them,” Neyer said. “I am still here and growing into the job, I have a lot more growing to do. I learn something new every day so it is incredibly interesting. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel around the league and talk baseball.”
Meyer’s travels will take him to Springfield this summer when the Drifters begin play as the 16th franchise in the league. Springfield opens the season at Bellingham on May 31 before unveiling the Hamlin Sports Complex when Cowlitz comes to town on June 3.