Centralia Product Hultberg Headed for WSBCA Hall of Fame
INDUCTION: Centralia Grad, Longtime North Mason Coach to Join WSBCA Hall of Fame in January
By Matt Baide
In the 1964 World Series, Bob Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals defeated Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees in seven games.
The series sparked a love of baseball for Centralia native Jay Hultberg. Now, 53 years later, Hultberg is preparing to be inducted into the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame after winning over 300 games in a 26-year career as the head coach at North Mason High School.
“It’s a heck of an honor, no question about it. Your peers felt that you are deserving, you put in the years, you put in the time,” Hultberg said. “You have the success that they felt warranted into the Hall. There are a lot of good names that are there.”
The journey to the Hall of Fame started in the Hub City. Hultberg played baseball at Centralia High School from 1974-76, along with football in the fall and basketball in the winter.
He broke his thumb during his junior year, which forced him to compete in track until he could get back to baseball. His senior year he broke a hand, but still played in a winner-to-regionals game against Mark Morris.
“I was playing with a broken hand, I hit a double, and I think that tied the game and I might have been the winning run to send us to regionals,” Hultberg said. “Regionals back then was smaller than it is now. It was a fun experience playing in Centralia.”
Hultberg moved on to play for Lower Columbia, catching for current Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black while in Longview and nearly winning an NWAC championship — in Centralia, coincidentally — as a sophomore.
“On the last day, we had to play three games. We won the first two, and then lost the third one 3-1,” Hultberg said. “On that day, I caught 27 innings. I remember that was a long day, but it was a fun day to look back on.”
Hultberg played out his final two years at Linfield College in Oregon, where the team won a pair of district championships.
“When I was there, I said I’m going to do it right, the school part. I’m not just going to take the classes so I can stay eligible, I really was a student-athlete,” Hultberg said. “I think that’s where I really got the notion I’m going to do the coaching thing and become a history teacher.”
He was also inspired to go into the teaching ranks because of legendary Centralia basketball coach and history teacher Ron Brown.
“I think I got into coaching education because of Ron Brown. He was a history teacher, I was a history guy,” Hultberg said. “From the time I learned how to read, I was reading about presidents, dead guys and stuff like that. It really interested me and I played basketball for four years there.”
After his time at Linfield, he moved back to the Hub City, where he was a substitute teacher and assistant baseball coach at Centralia College with Ken Wilson. He taught at the high school the next year, and in the fall of 1982 applied to teach history at North Mason (Belfair). With a little help from his old basketball coach, he got the job.
“The athletic director and assistant principal at North Mason that hired me was actually a Centralia graduate, and his dad lived next door to Ron,” Hultberg said. “Ron was on my reference list on my resume. He talked to Ron and said ‘Otherwise you’re just a guy with a good-looking resume and transcript out of 90 people that applied for this job.’ But he saw that name, he called Ron, and then I’m hired up there.”
Hultberg was originally hired as the Bulldogs’ head softball coach, but funds opened up for a an assistant baseball coach and he switched roles. Two years later he was promoted to head coach, starting a 26-year tenure that featured a 324-221 record and six trips to state.
“It was a great community to work in up there, especially in the early years. We had some pretty good athletes early on,” Hultberg said. “The love of the game, the competition, seeing kids grow, I worked with a lot of great kids. Not just great baseball players, but great kids. It keeps you young.”
Hultberg coached his two sons, Matt, a 2001 graduate and Brett, a 2004 graduate.
“I was going to go through their graduation, and initially play it one year at a time, and if it stayed fun I was going to keep doing it,” Hultberg said. “You meet a lot of good people along the way, make a lot of friendships that way. It was a great run.”
In 2010, after reaching the state playoffs, Hultberg decided it was time for someone else to take the reins.
“It was time for somebody else to give it their shot,” he said. “I knew they’d be pretty good the next year, so I thought that was a good time.”
Seven years later Hultberg, now retired, living in Tumwater and studying to become a real estate agent, got the call that he had been voted into the WSBCA Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted in January at a ceremony in Portland.
Hultberg noted that without baseball, his life and career path would have been different.
“There’s no way my career path would have gone that way. I wouldn’t have been teaching 35 years at North Mason, because I probably wouldn’t have gone to college,” Hultberg said. “I had a summer job at Northwest Hardwoods. I probably would have been in a mill or bounced around something like that.”