It’s a bright, sunny afternoon at Civic Field in Port Angeles, and Chad Wagner and his Wilder Baseball Club players are going to work.
Well, work with a smile. It is, after all, a ball game.
The broad-shouldered coach behind sunglasses smacking grounders and watching his infielders snap throws to first base isn’t that far removed from being one of the Wilder youth himself.
“I’m not going to lie — I love it,” Wagner says, taking a break in practice.
The Sequim High School grad was an ace for the Wolves, racking up a 5-2 record and 1.79 ERA in his senior season in 2006. For three of his prep years, he played summer ball with Wilder.
Following graduation, Wagner pitched at Lower Columbia College, where he was first team All-NWAACC and twice named first team All-West Region before transferring to the University of Hawaii-Pacific.
Following his playing days, he went on to handle pitching coach duties at Lower Columbia, for the semipro Kitsap Blue Jackets squad and with Wilder under then-coach Rob Merritt.
In the spring, Wagner stepped into the head coaching job at Port Angeles, and now he’s heading up one of the region’s top select summer baseball teams.
“It was really handed to me (from Merritt); it’s quite an honor,” Wagner says.
It’s a fitting role for Wagner, who says he wound up in a great situation when he and wife Justine (a former SHS prep standout in tennis, basketball and swimming) decided to settle back in their hometown. Wagner is finishing his master’s degree so he can teach online classes, giving the couple the ability to move anywhere.
“With coaching, it’s kind of wherever the job is at,” Wagner says, “(but) I don’t want to move my family.”
Now Wagner is running the coaching gauntlet, working with some of the top high school players from Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Forks.
Unlike high school, Wagner says, there’s little room here for unfocused players.
“You’re going to work every day or you’re going to leave,” he says. “A lot of these kids, they’re learning the game, learning how we play Wilder baseball.”
That includes a pair of Sequim High standouts — pitcher/first baseman Nick Johnston and outfielder Brett Wright — joining Kyle Kelly and four other Port Townsend-area stars, one from Forks (Michael Dean) and another 10 from Port Angeles, including standouts Brady and Marcus Konopaski, Brian DeFrang and Jordan Shepherd.
Backed by assistants Zac Moore and Grant Smithson, Wagner saw his Wilder team get off to a bumpy start — 1-3 in their first four contests — before reeling off 15 consecutive wins.
Those wins included an 8-0 win against Victoria, a 7-2 victory against Kingston and 4-1 win against the Seattle Titans at Wilder’s own Dick Brown Firecracker Classic.
The winning streak came to an end abruptly after Wilder fell to the Washington Nationals of Poulsbo, 1-0, in the Firecracker final on July 7.
Wagner likes Wilder’s chances of a strong season, one that comes on the heels of the second-ever Wilder appearance at the Babe Ruth World Series.
Armed with a strong pitching staff, speedy lineup and sharp defense, Wilder has a chance at making some noise this postseason, Wagner says.
With an eye toward the future, Wagner says he’d like to see more Sequim athletes do battle with their prep rivals under the same Wilder banner.
Not that he’s offering any special privileges for Sequim-area players.
“I’m not biased with any kid,” Wagner says. “They show up in a Wilder jersey, not a P.A. or Sequim jersey.”