Sports

A little tougher than the rest

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Nick Batkoski isn’t the flashiest guy on a baseball diamond.

The 2001 Federal Way High School graduate just goes out every day and does his job. Batkoski’s workmanlike attitude has been a big reason why his University of Washington baseball team has a solid shot at advancing to the College World Series.

“Nick is one kid a normal person can identify with,” said Federal Way head coach Eric Fiedler. “His physical abilities are good, but not great. He just has an edge over anyone else because he is more mentally tough.”

Batkoski’s Huskies finished second in the Pac-10 and are ranked No. 14 in the latest Baseball America poll. Batkoski and the rest of the Washington baseball team (37-18-1 overall, 15-9 in the Pac-10) started their postseason run yesterday against Tulane in Oxford, Miss. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies and Tulane are joined in the region by host Mississippi and Western Kentucky.

“This whole ride has been awesome,” Batkoski said. “I am looking forward to playing in the postseason and putting Washington baseball on the map. We want to show some of the schools on the east coast that we can play. I think that we have a team that can go all the way.”

The winner of the Huskies’ double-elimination Oxford region, which will conclude tomorrow, will play the winner of a regional in Fullerton, Calif. in a best-of-three Super Regional June 11-13. The winner of that series will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Fullerton region includes Cal-State Fullerton, Arizona State, Minnesota and Pepperdine.

“He has been a very productive guy for us,” Washington head coach Ken Knutson said about Batkoski. “Especially late in the season.”

A big reason for Batkoski’s success may be due to Knutson giving him a chance at playing the same position every day — a luxury the junior didn’t have his first two seasons at UW.

Batkoski became the Huskies’ everyday shortstop on April 12 before the opener of a two-game series with Oregon State. Knutson moved regular shortstop Brent Lillibridge to center field.

“At the UW, I have played every position but center field and catcher,” Batkoski said. “But I think shortstop is my best position and the one I like playing the best.”

Since Knutson inserted Batkoski at shortstop, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has started 24 of the last 25 games for the Huskies and the team is an amazing 19-5 in those contests.

“He is very sure-handed,” Knutson said. “He catches everything hit at him and makes all the routine plays. He is so steady and we needed another bat in our lineup. He has been a key to us getting hot.”

On the year, Batkoski hit a respectable .291 with two home runs and 33 RBIs, even with a recent 0-for-20 streak. But more importantly, he had a .960 fielding percentage at shortstop.

“His true love has been shortstop,” Fiedler said. “He is kind of an unnatural athlete and he might not have the nimbleness of other guys, but he gets the job done.”

During his days at Federal Way, Batkoski was the starting shortstop and ace of the pitching staff on a team that won the Class 4A state championship during his senior season in 2001. He was named All-State and the South Puget Sound League Player of the Year.

“He is a highly-intelligent player,” Fiedler said. “One guy he kind of reminds me of is Willie Bloomquist (Seattle Mariners utility player).”

Batkoski is one of a plethora of homegrown players at the University of Washington. The Huskies have just four out-of-staters on their 35-man roster and only two have seen any significant playing time. And a bulk of the Washington kids weren’t highly recruited by other schools coming out of high school.

“Our goal is to keep all the Washington kids here,” said Knutson, who graduated from Evergreen High School in White Center.

“That is something I really enjoyed about the Huskies,” Batkoski said. “We want to keep the players in state because we play some pretty good baseball up here.

“We don’t need to bring in all those flashy California kids.”

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