Sports

SK grads making Major impact

It rests down a slight slope from the house, the weeds a sign of wear on the infield.

A portion of the green outfield fence on the 42-acre lot has a gap in centerfield because Bill Bloomquist, a retired dentist who with friends constructed the field — complete with a batting cage — decided he wanted an area where he could drive golf balls.

The field was once perfectly manicured. Dayna Bloomquist, the mother of South Kitsap legend and Seattle Mariners veteran Willie Bloomquist, remembers it as her son’s pride and joy. A daily regime where he took so many swings that his parents bought a pitching machine and took a break from pitching themselves.

The outfield where he reenacted the game-saving over-the-wall catch he hoped to make.

Bloomquist eventually outgrew the field, but its character seems to represent both him and Jason Ellison, who moved in with the Bloomquists in high school. The charm of dreams fulfilled; the ruggedness of life and Bloomquist’s style of play.

And a few lessons along the way.

Bloomquist and Ellison, both 29, graduated in 1996 from South. Ellison, whose mother was arrested and jailed on drug charges in 1987, according to a 2003 article in the Fresno (Calif.) Bee, stayed in Port Orchard when his parents divorced. He took up residence in an apartment with friends — an arrangement Bloomquist found unsatisfactory.

“Willie asked if maybe he could come here and we were thrilled to have him,” Dayna Bloomquist said. “He was a really neat kid. He stayed with us here for half of his junior year and all of his senior year.”

Retired South baseball coach Elton Goodwin said he thinks the move allowed Ellison a future in baseball — and more.

“It was huge,” he said. “I think it really helped straighten his life out because it gave him a family structure. When the Bloomquists made that move, I believe it helped get him through high school.”

When her son made his request, Dayna Bloomquist said it was an easy decision to make.

“When you’re blessed to have so much, you’re willing to share and help someone out in a way you can actually see the hands-on process,” she said. “This is something we could do where we could actually see a hands-on result.”

And Ellison eagerly accepted the offer.

“My family had moved out of state and I wanted to play summer ball with him,” he said. “It just conveniently worked out where he asked me to stay over there.”

JUST LIKE BROTHERS

Bloomquist said the pair “grew up like brothers,” but were set to go separate directions for college.

Bloomquist passed up on an opportunity to sign with the Mariners as an eighth-round pick and headed to Arizona State. Ellison, who went 20-0 in his career as a pitcher at South and helped the Wolves to a 1996 state championship, signed with Washington State, but failed to qualify academically.

“That was a little bit of a disappointment for us because we thought he was a shoo-in at WSU,” Dayna Bloomquist said. “When that fell through — because he had been offered a scholarship and everything — bless his heart, he started over at (Bellevue Community College) and then went to Lewis-Clark State.”

Ellison said it worked out for the best. At BCC, he met his wife, Raelena, and the couple now has a home in Renton and a 1½-year-old daughter, Ariana, which Ellison said is “probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He then transferred to Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho where he won consecutive national championships under coach Ed Cheff.

“I learned how to play the game right,” Ellison said. “It prepared me both physically and mentally and I think it did wonders for me.”

From there, Bloomquist and Ellison went their separate ways again. The Mariners drafted Bloomquist again after his junior season at ASU — this time as a third-round selection in 1999 — and he signed.

Ellison was the drafted the following year as a 22nd-round selection by San Francisco.

Bloomquist made his major-league debut first on Sept. 1, 2002 — the first day each year that rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40 players — and hit .455 in 33 at-bats with the Mariners that season.

Despite modest talent, Bloomquist hasn’t been back to the minor leagues, with the exception of an injury-rehabilitation assignment in 2004 at Tacoma, perhaps because of his passion to improve.

The Mariners likely wouldn’t use him as a catcher or pitcher, but he can line up anywhere else in the field — he came out of ASU as just a shortstop — and has improved his batting average this season. He entered the year as a .257 career hitter in 917 at-bats, but has a .292 average in 120 at-bats this season through Saturday.

His intensity, as he recently told reporters after a game where he slid headfirst into first base in an attempt to beat out a throw, surprises no one, particularly his mother. Dayna Bloomquist said she saw it when he played in the South Kitsap Youth Athletics Association basketball league.

“Even as a little boy when he started playing sports he got so emotionally involved in it that sometimes you worried maybe he wasn’t having fun,” she said. “But I don’t think he would do it if he hadn’t been having fun. You didn’t kid around with him or anything on the day of the game.”

Bloomquist said it’s all part of what it takes to play professional baseball.

“I didn’t get here without sacrifice,” he said. “That’s what people don’t realize in this game.

“Every summer my friends would go to the lake and have a good time water-skiing and I was playing baseball. I had to miss out on a number of things, family weddings and whatever because I was playing baseball and trying to get better. It doesn’t come easy, but it’s worth it when you get here.”

FACING CHALLENGES

Bloomquist and his family also dealt with his father’s car accident in October 2002 when he broke two neck vertebrae on a hunting trip in Wyoming. After surgery, he suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma, which he later came out of, but suffered permanent

memory loss and now lives at Orchard Point Assisted Living.

“It’s especially tough on Willie, I think, because he had just come up and fulfilled the dream of all time and unfortunately Bill’s damage to the brain doesn’t even allow him to recognize that,” Dayna Bloomquist said. “The good part is, he gets surprised and happy every time he reads the paper and sees Willie is with the Mariners. He kind of relives it every time.”

Despite the difficulties, both are happy to represent their hometown along with another South graduate, Tampa Bay pitcher Jason Hammel, in the major leagues.

“I get shivers about it,” Goodwin said. “I’m so proud of what we did. It makes me so proud to see three guys in the bigs. For a coach, that’s the ultimate to me.”

Ellison, who made his major-league debut in 2003, spent parts of four seasons with the Giants and had an opportunity to watch career home-run champion Barry Bonds. He actually saw his most extensive big-league time in 2005 when Bonds was on the disabled list and hit .264 with four home runs, 24 RBI and 14 stolen bases in 352 at-bats.

“I got to see, as far as I’m concerned, the best hitter ever,” Ellison said.

Meanwhile, Bloomquist has been able to live at home with his family — wife, Lisa, and 2½-year-old daughter Natalie — at their homes in Issaquah and Peoria, Ariz., where the Mariners train.

“It’s been a lot of fun growing up a Mariners fan and getting the opportunity to play with them,” Bloomquist said. “It’s been a pretty special deal for me.”

The two even had an opportunity to catch up when the Mariners traded for Ellison on April 1.

“For us to both get the opportunity to play up here in the big leagues with the same team is something we always talked about, but never thought would really happen,” Bloomquist said.

Some have attributed their careers at the major-league level to hard work and perseverance, Bloomquist (.334) and Ellison (.355) both have low career slugging percentages through Saturday, but Goodwin said their abilities are underestimated.

“Willie is probably the most talented kid I’ve ever coached and Jason’s not far behind,” he said. “They could run, throw and had fantastic hand-eye coordination. We just knew somewhere along the lines, they were going to make something happen.”

THINGS CHANGE

The hometown venture didn’t last long as the Mariners waived Ellison after the Aug. 1 game to make room for top prospect Adam Jones. Ellison was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds, who needed a reserve outfielder after Ryan Freel sustained a season-ending knee injury, and couldn’t be reached for comment about his new team.

“I felt in my heart that someone would pick him up,” Goodwin said. “He’s proven himself in the bigs. The one year he got to start, he hit.”

As with any non-starter in sports, he hoped to earn more playing time before he left the Mariners. Ellison is hitless in six plate appearances for the Reds and has a .250 average in 52 at-bats this season through Saturday.

Similar to the ballpark in his old backyard, Ellison plans to persevere through his latest challenge and reminds local youths to do the same.

“If your goal is to play baseball as long as you can, just work hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything,” he said. “Good things will happen to you.”

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