Pair of Area Aces Refine Their Repertoire as Cowlitz Black Bears
Give and Take: Stanley and Peters Trade Local Knowledge for Pitching Tips in West Coast League
By Jordan Nailon
LONGVIEW – The Cowlitz Black Bears are by no means a new commodity on the Southwest Washington summer baseball scene. Founded in 2010 and based out of Longview, the Black Bears are a member of the West Coast League and they stock their roster each year with a potpourri of college eligible ballplayers from across the country and amatuer international talent.
While the Black Bears have seemingly settled into their place in the hearts and minds of area baseball fans over the years, the constantly churning clubhouse of active college baseball players means that each season, the team has to bring in a batch of fresh faces in order to retool their roster.
This year, the robust Black Bears roster features a pair of local aces in Christian Peters, a 2016 graduate of Centralia, and Wyatt Stanley, a 2017 Napavine graduate. Peters has spent the last two seasons pitching for the University of Portland, while Stanley just recently wrapped up his freshman campaign on the hill for Edmonds Community College.
Stanley and Peters are pitchers with divergent roles and body types, but a common goal as teammates – They strive to stymie opposing offenses.
Peters, a 6’2”, 195-pound right handed relief pitcher, accumulated a 2-0 record, 19 strikeouts, and held opponents to just a .247 opposing batting average this year as a late inning setup man for the Pilots. Meanwhile, Stanley, 6’3”, 245-pound right handed pitcher, compiled an 8-1 record with a 1.58 ERA and 53 strikeouts as a starting pitcher for the Tritons.
Both pitchers are being used in a similar fashion this summer for the Black Bears and they say they are using their extra opportunities to be at the ballpark in order to improve their arsenals.
Stanley, who is on a precautionary restricted innings watch after heavy usage in his initial collegiate campaign, typically starts one game a week and then makes another appearance as an extended reliever in between starts. He says so far he has been enjoying the alternating rhythm of his pitching schedule this summer since it allows him more time to tinker in between appearances.
“Most of these pitchers are D-1 pitchers and so you can really learn a lot from talking to them. I’m really trying to develop a changeup and so I’ve talked to a lot of guys who do throw one. I’m taking bits and pieces from other guys to see what’s worked for them,” explained Stanley.
While his workload has decreased slightly as a customary precaution during the summer season, Stanley says he has to labor even more on the mound in order to keep out of trouble.
“The biggest thing for me is learning how to pitch and not just throw. I’ve always been the kid who just throws hard and I kind of got away with it in high school but now I’m dialing in my mechanics and actually learning how to pitch. You can’t just throw a fastball down the middle here because people will hit it. You’ve got to learn how to spot up, and pitch backwards,” said Stanley. “As far as the pitching goes, you’re facing guys from all different Division 1 (schools). The nine batter plays at some D1, so you can’t take a batter off is what I’ve learned. It’s challenging, but I like it.”
Whereas Stanley was a freshman pitching in a wood bat community college league, Peters has spent the last two years toiling away at the Division-1 level against stronger players swinging metal bats with the comparative potency of moonshine. From his perspective, the switch from metal bats in college to wood bats in the West Coast League provides a little breathing room to try and work on new pitches and approaches on the mound.
“The West Coast League is really high quality baseball so it’s really good competition, especially for summer ball. The only difference for me that I’ve seen so far is that in Division 1 we use metal bats and here it’s a wood bat league,” explained Peters, who pitched for the Gresham GreyWolves in the West Coast League last summer. “On a bad swing with a wood bat, it’s probably going to break, whereas a metal bat probably isn’t ever going to break. There’s just a few more things you can get away with.”
Peters, a year older and further along in his development from a high school hurler to a refined college pitcher, knows enough to realize that the most successful pitchers never stop working on their craft.
“I think summer ball in general just gives the freedom to work on stuff,” said Peters. “At the end of the day, everybody wants to win, and hopefully win a championship, but at the same time summer ball is all about development.”
Both players say that the family friendly atmosphere at David Story Field in Longview, including its infamous party deck in left field, helps to keep things interesting during a rapid fire season that allows for few off days.
“It’s a really good atmosphere, especially now that the weather is nice. We get a lot of fans and kids out there, and then all the in-between innings games are fun,” said Stanley, who counts fireworks night among his favorite promotions. He also noted one promotional giveaway where 1,000 dollar bills were dumped on the field while young fans chased them down in a stiff evening breeze.
“We interact with the fans between innings and sign autographs. It’s a lot of stuff that I haven’t done before so it’s been really fun so far,” added Stanley.
Peters agrees that the circus-like atmosphere of the West Coast League is a perfect changeup to the full-speed-ahead college campaign.
“Summer ball is definitely different in that way. You’ve got the on-field games and the fans are always incorporated. It’s definitely more of a loose atmosphere in summer ball,” he said.
Peters credits former W.F. West Bearcat, Michael Forgione, with helping him land with the Black Bears this season. Forgione, a former U.P. Pilots and Cowlitz Black Bears player as well, has returned for another year as an assistant coach this summer. This spring, he also found his way back to the Pilots as a graduate assistant to the program.
“I actually played with Forgione for a year at University of Portland and then he was our grad assistant this year so I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over last few years,” said Peters, who noted Forgione has worked primarily with the Black Bear infielders before games while manning the third base coaches box during contests this year. “He’s been a pretty big impact for the guys.”
While Peters, Stanley and Forgione share common Lewis County roots, the vast majority of their teammates this summer come from far flung locations. The roster includes players from Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas and Illinois, among other states, as well as players from the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. With different divisions of college ball wrapping their seasons up at different times and each player needing to find their way to Cowlitz County on their own, the roster typically takes awhile each summer to fully materialize. That shotgun start means that it can take some extra effort to build true team chemistry.
“It can be a little awkward at first, especially because there’s a couple other JUCO guys and you battle with them all year, but everyone who plays in this league is really good so there’s a respect that runs through all of the players,” noted Stanley. “It didn’t take long for us to bond and kind of gel. We go on the three day road trips and so you’ve got to get to know everyone in a hurry, especially when you’re staying four guys to a room.”
Peters agreed that road trip hijinx are essential to weaving the fabric of a team identity.
“You don’t really know the guys that you’re playing with so you’ve got to develop a relationship with each and every guy so that you can trust them as teammates,” Peters said. “You’ve just got to take time and sit down and get to know the guys. On the bus rides and stuff we’ll just try to play games and on off days me and a couple buddies will go golfing.”
As two of only a handful of native Western Washingtonians, both Peters and Stanley say they have wound up playing the part of team concierge for their teammates who find themselves in unfamiliar stomping grounds.
“Every day, all of the Texas guys are always asking what there is to do around here,” said Peters, who has insider knowledge when it comes to both the bright lights of Portland and the home cooked deals of Lewis County. He says he likes to send guys to Portland with instructions to “try all the food they can,” but if they’re looking to play a round of golf or pick up some new accessories, he tries to send them north toward the Twin Cities.
“I usually try to send them to Riverside (Golf Course) in Chehalis, or, if they’re looking for good deals I’ll send them to Centralia for the outlets. I try to keep them local that way,” said Peters.
Stanley says that some of Western Washington’s peculiarities have been even more befuddling to his teammates than figuring out where to golf or shop.
“The biggest thing is the weather. Especially the Texas kids who are always complaining about the weather at night,” said Stanley. “The funniest thing I’ve heard all year is a kid from Canada who asked, since I’m from Washington, if I root for the Seahawks or the (Washington D.C.) Redskins.”
A question like that just goes to show that on the Black Bears everyone is trying to improve their command of location in one way or another.