Kuzminsky California Bound
Head Games: Toledo Alum Signs at Simpson University to Play Ball, Study Psychology
By Jordan Nailon
Wes Kuzminsky is the sort of do-it-all wunderkind who gets chosen first for playground teams and takes the lead on daunting group projects in school. At Toledo High School, his talents were on full display as he maintained an unbroken 4.0 GPA and capped a four-year varsity baseball career as the best all-around player on a state championship team in 2016.
Kuzminsky hit in the heart of the order for that team while holding down shortstop for most of the innings that he didn’t take to the pitchers mound. During his four prep years, he also manned the outfield along with the gamet of infield positions as well. For all his exploits though, and perhaps because of them, he was a tough sell to college baseball coaches.
Some coaches were scared away by the fact that Toledo is a small school and others found it hard to project the best college position for Kuzminsky whose frame has always been comprised primarily of knees and elbows.
One coach familiar with Kuzminsky lamented at the time that it was proving difficult to sell a guy who is good at all positions but doesn’t necessarily stand out at any one spot. He said it was difficult to avoid describing Kuzminsky as a good “baseball guy” with great grades, which he feared would come off as a backhanded compliment.
At first, Kusminsky considered attending Corban University. However, once he was awarded a valedictorian scholarship that would pay for the entirety of his tuition at Centralia College, he opted to become a Trailblazer.
For the last two seasons, he’s just continued being that same dependable guy he’s always been. The only hiccup was a pesky A- grade he received in a nutrition class that spoiled an otherwise perfect cumulative GPA.
“I’d come close so many times that it was just bound to happen,” said Kuzminsky with a laugh. “In high school, I would have been devastated.”
While he was with the Trailblazers Kuzminsky played outfield, including stints in centerfield, swung a consistent stick, and maintained a considerable role as a pitcher. In 2018, Kuzminsky hit .278 with a home run and seven doubles and 11 RBIs to go along with an ERA of 3.45 in 17 games. This year, he was even honored by the college as Sportsperson of the Year.
“It worked out pretty well,” observed Kuzminsky of his decision to attend Centralia College.
Now, Kuzminsky is making final preparations to continue his athletic and academic endeavors at Simpson University in Redding, California. According to Kuzminsky, the plan is to continue being a good “baseball guy” with great grades.
His former coaches believe Kuzminsky will have no problem maintaining his high standards both on and off the field while he is away. Take Joe Bair for example, who coached Kuzminsky as an assistant coach at Centralia College in addition to a series of summers with Rural Baseball Inc. and then the Lower Columbia American Legion program:
“Wes is the ultimate competitor. He often gets overlooked because he went to a small school but he thrived in senior legion and community college because he goes out and does his job every day, maximum effort,” said Bair. “He’s also one of the smartest players I’ve coached.”
Simpson University is an NAIA school that plays in the California Pacific Conference. Kuzminsky says that just as he was drawn to Centralia College by an alluring mix of scholarship and playing opportunities. He is expecting to once again establish himself as a notable contributor both on the diamond and in the classroom.
“I’m not taking anything for granted but I’m supposed to be a dude there,” said Kuzminsky. “That was one of the reasons, besides the scholarship money, that I chose Simpson was because I can pitch and hit, which is a big deal to me.”
Wherever Kuzminsky has played he has been successful, even going back to his days before T-ball. He says he started playing ball in the backyard when he was about three and quickly moved on to “tennis-baseball” and wiffle ball with his friends.
“My generation of Toledo guys is the only baseball generation lately. Everyone else grew up playing basketball,” said Kuzminsky.
He credited his old youth coach, Nate Vermilyea, for keeping his group of peers together over the years and noted that by the time that squad reached high school they were primed for success. During Kuzminsky’s freshman and sophomore years, he played at the 1A level with the combined Toledo-Winlock Warhawks team, qualifying for districts each year. Then as a junior, when Toledo went solo and dropped down to 2B, the Indians baseball team placed third in state. The next year that team, which lovingly referred to itself as “The Brotherhood,” captured a state title.
“We went out with a bang. They had a parade for us with a float and everything,” said Kuzminsky of a team that featured players like Connor “Corndog” Vermilyea, Kolt Korpi, Dakota Robins, Alex Bacon, and Wes’s brother, Jackson.
While at Centralia College, the wins were not quite as frequent for Kuzminsky but the team still managed to continue an upward trajectory by making the playoffs in both of his seasons, including a do-or-die postseason win this season against perennial NWAC title contender Mt. Hood. Former Trailblazer head coach Jake LeDuc said despite Kuzminsky’s small town roots, he proved to be a quick study.
“First of all Wes is an awesome student and on the field he gets it done. He’s not always the prettiest of guys out there but he gets outs on the mound,” said LeDuc. “I think he learned a lot his freshman year and then stepped up big for us this year.”
Kuzminsky’s aptitude for learning on the field and in the classroom can be traced back to the diligent homeschool education he received up until his freshman year of high school.
“I learned a lot more in a shorter period of time but I didn’t get to see my friends. Those are the pros and cons of homeschool,” explained Kuzminsky. “Before high school I was only allowed to play one sport per year so I always chose baseball. Plus I’d always play summer ball so it wound up being like a six month season.”
Even as a homeschool kid though, Wesley didn’t lack for interaction thanks to his adopted brother Jackson and a strong connection to the family’s church community. Wes noted that he and Jackson, who was a three sport athlete at Toledo, are separated in age by just two weeks and have been brothers since they were six years old.
“They thought it would be good for me to have a brother, and great if they could help someone else, and they felt called by God to do it,” said Wes of his parents decision to adopt Jackson. “Thanks to our church community Jackson was friends with all of my friends within a couple of weeks.”
Kuzminsky hopes to keep on making connections with people through church in his future in a professional capacity. He says his plan is to study physcology over the next two years and then perhaps pursue a Masters degree with the intent of becoming a church counselor.
Based on LeDuc’s assessment of Kuzminsky’s standing with his teammates, that’s a role he could likely fulfill with ease.
“I don’t think anyone on the team did not like Wes. I think he got along well with everyone. Sometimes the comments that come out of his mouth we look at him like, ‘Really Wes?’ But that’s a product of his homeschooling I think,” joked LeDuc.
LeDuc noted that one way Kuzminsky promoted team bonding during his time with Centralia was by taking his teammates fishing.
“This year there was a group of about 6-10 (players), there was a big group of them that seemed to head out there every time we had a day off,” said LeDuc. “It was a really interesting group to see headed off to the river to fish.”
Kuzminsky says his father got him into fishing and now he enjoys exposing others to the joys of piscatorial pursuits.
“It’s just really relaxing, plus I don’t have cellphone service out here, which is really nice,” said Kuzminsky as he trolled his boat around Swofford Pond in search of bass on Monday night. “I take a lot of local guys, and the out of staters. It’s really laid back compared to how fast-paced everything else is away from the water.”
Kuzminsky signed with Simpson University in mid-July, which is fairly late in the game for sophomores searching for a new home. He said Centralia College assistant coach Cam Margaris was instrumental in helping him hookup with the Red Hawks, and even though he signed relatively late Kuzminsky insists he enjoyed the scattershot process of finding a new dugout and library to stalk for the next two years.
“It was actually really fun, mostly because I didn’t expect it,” said Kuzminsky, who will take off for Redding around Labor Day. It will be his first time living outside of Southwest Washington and he noted that he doesn’t know anyone in Redding. He also doesn’t quite know what to expect in a community that was just recently devastated by a sweeping wildfire.
“It’s a really huge deal. It’s really affecting the community,” said Kuzminsky.
He has plans to get an inflatable watercraft and find time to ply Lake Shasta and Whiskey Lake in order to test the local fishing scene. If his time in Lewis County serves as any indication Kuzminsky will likely have a host of teammates out on the water with him before long.
“Playing baseball will help. I should have a team full of friends within two weeks,” he predicted.