Injuries, luck made life interesting for BlueJackets in ’08

This season was anything but easy for the Kitsap BlueJackets.

The summer collegiate baseball league that calls Lobe Fields at the Fairgrounds home lost players before the season even began to the MLB draft. Others were lost to injury as the season progressed. One even had to leave on account of his newborn baby.

As a result, it’s easy to see how the Kitsap BlueJackets (19-23) ended up missing the playoffs, dropping five of the team’s last six games.

“We made a heck of a run at it,” Kitsap coach Matt Acker said. “We lost a tremendous amount of pitchers before the season even started.”

Ultimately, Acker said the team was forced to put players in situations they simply weren’t ready for. For example, due to injuries in the relief corps, Connor Whalen and Mike Woolford were asked to share closing duties.

“This year was a different year,” Acker said. “We knew going in we didn’t have very many returning pitchers. We knew the whole pitching staff would be brand new.”

Throw in the injuries and oddities and pitchers like Chad Wagner got a lot of opportunity.

“What he didn’t understand is that the talent level is higher than in junior college, but the hitters aren’t using metal bats,” Acker said, indicating that as the season went on, Wagner became a strong asset to the rotation. “Now that’s one thing that’s exciting about next year. We’ll return a slew of pitchers.”

Already slated to return are pitchers like Trey Watt, Whalen, Woolford, James Douglas, Jake Shadle, Sean Greer and more. On the offensive end, virtually the whole outfield will be back, including Kyle Baskett, Aaron Johnson and Brian Heere.

“We actually were a fairly young team,” Acker said. “They’re a phenomenal bunch of kids to coach. They did the most with the hand they were dealt. And they’re one of the best offensive and defensive teams.”

Kitsap finished tied for third in the WCCBL with a .261 team batting average with Spokane, finishing behind Corvallis (.266) and Bend (.275). Kitsap’s 217 runs were second overall, as was the team’s 377 hits, .968 fielding percentage and 52 errors (second fewest). That means replacing middle infielder Brandon Decker will be high on the offseason priority list. While still eligible to return, Acker said Decker’s school (San Diego State University) may not let him.

“The team played great defense,” he said. “I was happy. Finding a replacement up the middle is gonna be tremendous for us. We have to go out and find the right guy.”

On the hill, however, the team’s 4.55 ERA was the second highest.

“We know what we need to do for next season,” Acker said.

While he has been thinking some about next year’s team, most of his early offseason has been spent thinking of ways to improve the team’s off-the-field product.

For the third consecutive year, the BlueJackets have been competitive, on the verge of postseason success. Attendance, however, has remained the same for the third straight year.

“I’d like to see it grow,” Acker said. “The owners would like to see it grow. And I think the fans at the ballpark want to see it grow.”

As a result, the Jackets are looking at what else they can do to get more fans at the ballpark.

“We want to put more entertainment value into it,” he said. “We expect to win. We’re a good team. But we want to grow our fans.”

Acker also is busy working on more affiliate teams. In fact, with the Tacoma Cardinals and Olympia Athletics already established, and plans for an Olympic College-based feeder team in the works, Acker said he’s also been approached about setting up a team for Central Washington University.

But no matter who controls the teams, Acker said he knows who will see the benefits.

“Either way it benefits local talent, it benefits the Northwest and it benefits the BlueJackets,” he said.

The league also is talking about expanding its game schedule to 60 games and filling teams’ off days with games against the affiliate teams. Acker also said Legion Field will likely play home to one or more of the affiliate teams next season.

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