The next week and a half will determine whether the Bellingham Bells are playoff present or absent. It's the first time this group of Bells are making a postseason push together, but the club has three players in Trent Chatterton, Jake Ehret and Chase Radan who know what it takes to be called champions.
The UCLA Bruins made a memorable run to the College World Series this past spring, and in Omaha won five straight to claim the school's first baseball national title. Radan didn't make the trip, but Chatterton and Ehret were along for the unforgettable ride.
"It was unreal," said Chatterton, Bellingham's utility infielder. "It was everything you ever dream of as a kid."
Even more memorable was his one at-bat against North Carolina State during pool play. Though the soon-to-be sophomore didn't record a hit, he joked his AB could have been worse.
"It was a lot of fun just looking around and seeing 27,000 people or whatever it was," said Chatterton of the grand atmosphere at the renowned Rosenblatt Stadium. "It was a line out to center. I was happy with it, an eight-pitch at-bat. It was good."
Chatterton - who began his college career starting at second before later adjusting to a pinch-hitting role - Radan and Ehret contributing on field in a small capacity during UCLA's title run, but the trio were immersed in a championship atmosphere. Ehret saw action in five games, pitching 3.1 innings, and Chatterton's .257 batting average ranked fifth on the club. He recorded 18 runs and drove in 10 throughout the year.
Bellingham manager Gary Hatch has used their insight to help the Bells understand what it takes to be a winner.
"Just having that presence of having national champions on your team and the perspective that they have, and we've asked them to talk about that in front of the guys in the clubhouse here about, 'What's that like to play in front of that many people on a national state and millions on television and actually win it and how difficult that is?'"
Winning and having what it takes to win are two separate entities. Surprisingly, though, how the Bruins won and what the Bells' strengths are aren't as far apart as some may think.
"Pitching and defense," Chatterton responded when asked how his Bruins did it. "That was our thing all year, and we played really well defensively."
UCLA didn't tout one batter with a .300-plus batting average. Instead, pitchers like Nick Vander Tuig, Adam Plutko and David Berg dominated while the Bruins' defense committed only three errors in five World Series games.
Similarly, Bellingham's .260 team batting average after Friday, Aug. 2, ranks seventh out of the 11-team WCL. It's 3.44 pitching ERA, on the other hand, ranks second. Fittingly, Chatterton sees a resemblance between the Bruins and the Bells.
"Our pitching, at least since I've been here, has been pretty good," said Chatterton of Bellingham. "Both our pitching and defense has really been the key."
Before Bellingham's game against Medford, which resulted in a 3-2 loss, on Wednesday, July 31, Hatch addressed his club with a message of togetherness.
He used an inspiring analogy referring to the Redwood Forrest's Sequoia trees and how they grow together.
"We talked about the Sequoias, the Redwoods," he explained. "That's called a stand down there, and the reason they call it a stand is because they have no taproot. They're not individual trees. The roots all grow together, you know. And I think that's what the UCLA kids mentioned when we asked them, 'What's it take?'"
To win it all, everyone on the team has to understand the concept of being a teammate, Hatch said. Every player has to know their role and then go out and play their hardest.
"We've found strength in that," said the Bellingham manager.
The Bells stand a half game out of the North Division lead entering play Saturday, Aug. 3, but Chatterton, Radan and Ehret are living proof of what can happen when a team comes together at season's end.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.