BURIEN - Their friendship spans two decades, nearly as long as their love of baseball.
Pitcher and catcher, a match made in horsehide heaven.
Steve Goucher and Troy Rusk, who met as Little Leaguers in Burien, have played baseball with each other - they helped the Everett Merchants win the NBC national semipro title in 1988 - and against each other. Goucher graduated from Highline High School in 1985, Rusk from Kennedy in 1986.
Even when they played college baseball on opposite sides of the country, Goucher at San Diego State and Rusk at the University of South Florida, they remained in touch.
Even when Rusk enjoyed a promising career in the Philadelphia Phillie organization and Goucher pursued options in Taiwan, their friendship never floundered.
And when their playing days were over, they decided it was time to work together again, in - what else? - baseball.
They are co-directors of Blackhawk Mountain Baseball, which offers youth baseball camps, coaching clinics and one-on-one instruction throughout the greater Seattle area - or just about wherever they're hired. They have a weekend clinic for five Little League teams in Alaska coming up, thanks to a response to information on their Web site: (www.becker1.com/blackhawks).
One of the unique things about their company, Goucher said, is they "go on location" to various schools or home fields to conduct their camps or clinics. Cost is usually $45 to $50 per player for a
two-day camp, $80 to $115 for weeklong sessions. They kick back 20 percent to the team or organization hiring them, to be used for scholarships, umpires or fields.
"We try to keep costs down so parents can afford to send two or three kids," Rusk said. "We don't do this primarily for profit. We want to help kids learn and coaches learn more. We love working with coaches."
Their brochure says they offer "a fun chance to learn from professionals who love to teach and give back what baseball gave them."
Rusk and Goucher both have full-time jobs. Rusk, 30, is an architectural designer for Northwest Playgrounds Equipment in Issaquah, designing sports facilities and playgrounds. Goucher, 31, works for the Mercer Island Parks Department nine months of the year, prepping ball fields. He also is the pitching coach at Mercer Island High School.
Rusk enjoyed the more storied playing career. He was the top hitter in the now-defunct North Puget Sound League his senior year at Kennedy and landed a full scholarship to South Florida, one of the top programs in the nation. He started at catcher all four years, averaging nearly 15 home runs a season. He was the conference player of the year and an All-American as a junior in 1989, when his team was ranked No. 1.
Rusk was the Phillies' 44th pick in the 1990 draft and "played at every level" in their organization, twice being invited to spring training. But his knees were showing the wear and tear of 250 games a year. After signing with Seattle in 1995, he failed to get an offer from the big-league club and retired with no qualms.
"It was a fun ride. But when it was over with, I enjoyed going onto other things," said Rusk, who is noticeably gimpy, especially going down stairs. "I don't have to play baseball to be happy in life."
Goucher played two years at Green River Community College before earning a scholarship from San Diego State. He played professionally for the Taiwan Blackhawks in 1991 but didn't enjoy the environment.
"It was a whole different world: no TV or movies or radio," he said. "Just baseball, and they played from 8 to 5. They went after it."
Goucher returned home after one season, then played Class A ball with the Bend (Ore.) Bucks. He expected a call from the Florida Marlins or Colorado Rockies, but it never came.
"I think I got too old," he said. "They kind of phase you out a little bit when you reach 23 or 24 and haven't really climbed the ladder. When you always get people out, you figure you'll get another chance or at least have someone tell you `no' on the field."
Goucher would love to have his business go full time and is searching for a major sponsor. In the meantime, he and Rusk enjoy doing as many camps and clinics as they can get - many of which come by referrals from satisfied customers. They especially like it when there's a golf course nearby - golf has become another passion they share.
"We have a lot of fun together," Rusk said. "We work real hard at it, but we're still kids at heart."