EPHRATA — The Columbia Basin 16-18 Babe Ruth League talent pool runs long and deep with strong baseball tradition.
Last year the Columbia Basin River Dogs flirted with the possibility of two baseball teams from the organization playing against each other in the Senior Babe Ruth World Series. Had the River Dogs White team beaten eventual champion Texas in the opener, they would have faced the River Dogs Blue in the semifinals. Had both teams won their semifinal games, it would have been an all-Columbia Basin shootout for the World Series championship. Both ended up finishing third.
The Senior Babe Ruth World Series returns to Jamestown, N.Y. Aug. 4-11 and the River Dogs won’t have the luxury of a host team and a state champion berth, so the area baseball minds put their heads together and came up with the idea of taking the top players from each team, creating a River Dogs select team to see if they can’t bring the national championship back to the Basin for the first time since 2015.
For the time being, the River Dogs Blue and White teams are operating as separate entities, playing separate schedules. The Blue are currently 6-1 and the White are 2-4, but on July 7 they will bring the force of the Basin together to form the traveling team for the first time in River Dogs history.
“It’s obviously not as talented as the ’98 team where seven guys were drafted (in the MLB Draft), but this team is deeper, I would say,” said River Dogs Blue coach Randy Boruff, who was the 2017 Lefty Gomez Babe Ruth League national volunteer of the year. “I think we’ll be the deepest lineup we’ve ever had. We’ll have five or six great starting pitchers, there’ll be a closer. You’ll have four or five good outfielders, four or five good infielders, two top catchers.
“I think the top 15 will be a pretty easy decision and then there’ll be seven or eight guys vying for the last three spots.”
Just the select team will play at the state tournament and the rest will combine to play another very difficult schedule.
The River Dogs White team was put together by manager Greco Signorelli and Donnie Lindgren nine years ago and has been playing together ever since. In 2016, they won both the state and region championships and played in the 15U Junior Babe Ruth League World Series in Fargo, N.D. Last year, they made it to the semifinals of the Senior World Series at Johnson-O’Brien Stadium in Ephrata. They might be a bunch of young guys, but they have played in big-time situations, including helping Moses Lake High School win a Columbia Basin Big Nine league championship and advance to the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
“We all agreed. We’re going to take the top 18 kids to make the strongest River Dogs team possible,” White skipper Signorelli said. “This is totally different than anything we’ve ever done before. Randy and I got together and we felt this would the best for the organization all the way around.
“The guys that aren’t selected, will still have a very tough schedule with great competition laid out for them. Either way, there’s great schedules laid out for both teams.”
The rosters include a laundry list of accolades from the recent high school seasons. The White team was all over the Big Nine accolades with CBBN Player of the Year Dominic Signorelli, center fielder Evan McLean and designated hitter Emmitt Tatum from the first team. The second team included shortstop Cody Alvarado, Vance Alvarado (starting pitcher) and Evan McLean (relief pitcher). Gabe Passey (left field) and catcher Cody Goodwin, who came over from the American Legion Spuds, were both all-Big Nine honorable mention.
The Blue roster includes all-Central Washington Athletic conference first-teamer Zac Berryman (shortstop) from Ephrata and second-teamers Ethan Etter (catcher), Ephrata, and Camron Valdez (second base), Othello.
All-star shortstop Joe Taylor of Brewster was the Central Washington B All-League MVP.
The Columbia Basin River Dogs Select will also combine coaching staffs with an impressive staff of baseball minds including Boruff, the Northern Washington State commissioner and Columbia Basin River Dogs skipper who was presented with the 2017 Lefty Gomez National Volunteer of the Year Award. Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Johnson, long-time Basin coach Greco Signorelli and Donnie Lindgren, who was named the Columbia Basin Big Nine Coach of the Year, and Mike Rios, who was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 22nd round of the 1994 MLB June Amateur Draft.
It won’t be a team full of MLB Draft selections, but it will be the Best of the Basin and one of the strongest River Dog teams the organization has assembled in recent years.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at email@example.com.