`It's Like Coming Home' -- New Semipro Team Offers Central Area Players A New Start

These boys of summer don't fit in anywhere. They are baseball's renegades, outcasts and misfits.

Maybe your roster was too full. Maybe you didn't need another right-handed reliever or an aging outfielder with a trick knee. Maybe you just didn't like his attitude.

Your team isn't taking walk-ons this season, you told one of these guys.

The guys that no team wants have finally found a home.

"My comeback starts here," said Willie Dorsey as he stood on Garfield Playfield. At age 25, he is one of the older players.

Home is the Seattle Central Area Bombers. They had their final preseason practice at Garfield Tuesday night. Yesterday they played their first game, against the Seattle Baseball Club, an all-star team mostly made up of the best graduating high school seniors in the area. The Bombers lost 10-5 with Kelvin Bell starting on the mound and Andre Redmond in relief.

The names glitter on the Seattle Baseball Club's roster: Seattle Prep's Joe Trippy, Roosevelt's Damien King, Hale's Ian Keber, Ballard's Damien Crabtree and Jeff Lynch, O'Dea's Jayson Bass and Joe Kulgren. Most are headed to college programs, or perhaps to a major-league farm system. Their options are ample.

The Bombers have one option, which is one more than they had before.

"We want to give these men, who might not ordinarily have the financial backing, a place to play," said Coach Ron Gates. "We want to give them a place, close to home so they don't have to travel. Hopefully they'll get picked up by a pro team or a major college. For some of these men, it's the first time they've gotten a real chance to play. And it will keep some of them off the streets. This will help the community."

The Bombers will play in the Puget Sound Stan Musial League of the American Amateur Baseball Congress. It's the highest level of baseball Gates has coached. His last team was the Central Area Youth Association's U.S. Bank team, an all-star team of high school players.

The Bombers complete the cycle that starts with Little League.

"We hope to provide the younger kids with role models," said Ellen Oliver, a team mother and self-appointed publicist for the team.

The Bombers often practice on the same playfield as the Little League teams. While Gates ran the Bombers' practice Tuesday, his oldest son, DuSean Gates, a senior on the Garfield High School baseball team this spring, was leading his Mariners against the A's in a Seattle Little League game.

DuSean's younger brother, Jeron, who attends Leschi Elementary, plays catcher for the Mariners. After that game ended, DuSean, bound for Walla Walla Community College, took center field for the CAYA Seattle Rainiers, a Connie Mack team.

Baseball is a game that theoretically can go on forever. Innings don't have to end. For most of the Bombers, however, the end looked near. But for the first time, the Central District has a team for older boys, the ones who never outgrew baseball.

"I think I have the talent and the speed," said David Phillips, an '89 grad of Jefferson High in Federal Way. "I want to prove myself here."

Phillips works days for United Parcel Service. In the evenings, he's a Bomber.

The Bombers call themselves a semipro developmental team. The players range in age from 19 to 26. The names don't mean a lot.

Some of them actually played professional baseball at one time. Some didn't even play high-school ball.

"It's a pretty good mixture," said Jeff Yeager, a 1990 Garfield graduate who turned out for the Bombers. "We haven't played much and we aren't too familiar with each other. But we're getting there."

Yeager, a student at the University of Washington, missed his chance to walk on with the Huskies. He came out too late. He said his talk with the coaches was discouraging.

His story is singular, yet typical. Typical, because like everyone else on this team, Yeager loves baseball too much to give up on it.

He started playing baseball on this very same field, at age 9. He wants to play college baseball somewhere. When he heard about the Bombers, no one had to convince him to give it a try.

"At least I have a chance here," Yeager said. "I wouldn't get to play anywhere else. I just wanted a chance to play, to see where I stand compared to other guys my age."

Some of these guys aren't so young anymore.

Dorsey went as far as Class AA ball with the Greenville (S.C.) Braves, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. A knee injury took him out of the game several years ago.

"I'm here by the grace of God," Dorsey said. "I'm here to try to get another start. I feel like I cheated myself out of my chance. But I still love to play the game. I have since I was 7 years old. I'm not ready to give it up yet. I'm still a young man, and the doctor says my knee is fine.

"Hopefully it won't be a long road back. I hope I can be on somebody's roster next year."

Dorsey is a native of New Orleans, where he attended Jesuit High School, the alma mater of the San Francisco Giants' Will Clark. He moved to Seattle because he had family here, but had no baseball outlet until he found the Bombers. At night, he works as a security guard at the Southcenter Mall.

Redmond understands the grind of a day job you'd rather not have. He works for a wine distributor and spent most of yesterday visiting customers all over the Eastside. He arrived just as the game started, too late to get on the lineup card.

No doubt, he would rather have been playing baseball. For four years, he did it for a living as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system.

He started on the team's rookie club, Bradenton, Fla., of the Gulf Coast League. He never hit above .300 there, but after stints in Canada and West Virginia, eventually moved on to the team's Class A club in Augusta, Ga., where he lasted until four weeks ago.

"Basically, my heart just wasn't in it," said Redmond, 23. "Not playing baseball, but the organization. I didn't leave with any hard feelings. I just wanted to get myself together and get a fresh start.

"Sometimes you have to go backward before you can go forward. I had dug myself into a hole."

Redmond's latest step forward was indeed a step backward. Into the past.

"This is home, all right," he said. "I played on this field when I was 13 years old. I used to live right up the street. My grandmother still lives there."

Redmond is a local product, raised in the Pony Leagues of the south end, ripened in the Metro AAA League as a member of the Roosevelt baseball team.

Art Wiper, now Roosevelt's athletic director, coached Redmond his senior year. The current coach at Roosevelt, John Robinson, was Redmond's history teacher in junior high.

Redmond was picked in the 18th round of the June, 1986 draft. He thought it was too early to play pro ball, and opted to play a season at Bellevue Community College.

His number was called again in the '87 draft, and this time he went.

"Everyone in the minor leagues is used to more than their share of success," Redmond said. "Then it starts to level out, and everybody has to dig down deep to achieve more than everyone else. I found myself right around the middle. I guess I didn't handle everything as well as I could have."

Redmond and Dorsey admit to feeling a little dated on this field of 19- and 20-year olds. They'd like to provide the team with some leadership.

"I want to make this program better, help build it into something," Redmond said. "I know all these guys here. It's like coming home."