NASELLE Some of the best times I have had as a baseball coach at Naselle is when we had a team that could only squeak out maybe three wins in a season, but to see the look of joy on the kids faces when they would win and wonder, How did we do that? That was great, coach Pete Donlon said a day after he announced his retirement.
Donlon has been a volunteer coach, assistant coach or head coach for the Comets since their inception in 1988. He took over the varsity helm in 2000. Randy Lindstrom, former all-league catcher at Naselle from 1989 to 1992 has been Donlons assistant since 2000.
Donlon told his team May 7 after they had dropped a district game against Ocosta to be eliminated, I am proud of each of you because you tried hard today, you practiced hard all season, and you kept your grades up. You competed well and did the best you can and you were a pleasure to work with. I have no gripes at all.
Following his typical positive remarks, even in the face of adversity and disappointment, Donlon said, Im done coaching and hopefully Randy will be hired and it will be his turn. He certainly has earned the right to coach and I am sure you guys who are coming back will give him the same respect and effort as you did for me.
Donlons tenure as a coach in Naselle began 30 years ago when he and Sam Katyryniuk started a Little League program when their sons were old enough to play. We had some pretty good players and then Tim Bishop came from the beach to pitch for us. Western Little League (from Longview) hadnt lost a regional game in about 20 years and they were thinking, Who are these little guys from the coast? We won 2-0 when my son (Kyle) hit a home run and Tim shut them out, Donlon laughs. I guess they figured out who we were by then.
As the team got older, Donlon graduated into helping start a Babe Ruth baseball program. With the help of Jack Smith, Gilbert Haataia and others, Naselle soon had not one, but two teams and they both competed very successfully in the Astoria League and beyond. Lindstrom was among the youngsters on those teams.
Donlon and others lobbied to have a high school team and in 1988 the Comets baseball squad was born. The first year they missed going to state regionals by one run, but from then on theirs was a legacy of success with the high point being the state championship game at Spokane Indians Ball Park in 1992.
On the way to Spokane the van Donlon and fellow assistant coach Bert Haven were driving was stopped by a Washington State Patrolman on I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass. As the trooper was checking everyone to make sure they had their seat belts fastened, his blue hat was blown off by a passing semi-truck. It blew down the freeway about 150 feet and I thought sure wed get a ticket for something after that, but he just told us to drive safely, Donlon says.
When we got to the hotel Bert started blowing his elk call and his son, Nate, told me, Hes not my dad. Then we were late for the opening ceremony. But the next day in our opening game (against Wahluke), Tim Haataia threw the first pitch between the batters knees and his shoe tops and when the umpire called it a strike, I looked at Kevin (coach Heimbigner) and Bert and we all knew we had this game because Tim was a low-ball pitcher, Donlon explains. The Comets won 10-0, their 24th straight victory.
When we got ready to leave for the championship game from the hotel, there was no Bert and no second van. The starters all loaded into Kevins van and I waited with the reserves at the hotel. Eventually Bert came by. He had taken the van to fill with gas, Donlon relates with his easy smile.
Later the wins became more challenging to get, but the Comets team continued to represent the school well at all times. Some years we were short on talent, but the kids always gave it a good effort. We had a wide variety of skill levels and experience, but it seemed like the less talent we had, the harder the kids worked, Donlon praises.
I remember when Doug Wise was an eighth grader, he was our scorekeeper. He was a brilliant kid and some of the older guys would have him doing their homework while the game was going on. When I found out I said, Wait a minute and that stopped, laughs Donlon.
Donlon graduated from Antioch High School in California in 1959. He was an all-league baseball player and also played basketball. He graduated from University of Oregon in 1966 with a degree in recreation administration. He briefly played baseball at University of Oregon until a shoulder injury slowed his playing career. That and I realized that everyone else around me was a better player and by then I discovered how much fun college life could be, Donlon jokes.
His other hobby is fishing. Growing up 40 miles east of San Francisco he fished the San Joaquin River with his dad in a 30-foot gillnetter and later in an 18-foot skiff. He water skied, but catching striped bass was his favorite pastime besides playing ball.
Donlon was hired at Tongue Point Job Corps in 1967. When he was going to be laid off because they were changing from a boys facility to one housing girls, he called Naselle Youth Camp and was hired during that telephone conversation.
I didnt even know where Naselle was, but I worked there from 1967 until I retired in 1998. One of the counselors was Mike Logan and I met his sister-in-law and my future wife, Barb, at one of our slow pitch softball games, says Donlon.
Their oldest son Kyle is 38 and is the marketing manager of Classic Resorts in Lahaina, Hawaii, on the island of Maui. Quinn is 33 and teaches in Burbank, and also coaches middle school baseball. Both were all-league players for the Comets in each of the four seasons they played and Kyle went on to play first base at Big Bend College along with Lindstrom and Brad York, also a Comet.
I started to write down some of my favorite players and a couple of minutes later I already had 10 or 12 names and then I thought, shoot, sure as heck Ill leave someone out and every kid is memorable for one thing or another, says Donlon. Leaving someone out is something he never did as an assistant or head coach.
Now I will have more time to fish for salmon and steelhead. I like to go to the San Juan Islands and go after bottom fish. I think that is my favorite kind of fishing and they are the best eating, Donlon says of his retirement from coaching. He and Barb will also have more time to see the grandkids.
I want to be sure to thank Ed Engleson for all he did to make our field the best in the league and I want to thank Ed and everyone who worked in the concession stand or who helped with fundraisers or Little League coaching over the years. I especially want to thank the players, parents and fans, Donlon says with sincere gratitude.
There were times I wanted to turn off the scoreboard because we were so far behind, but we always had the support of our fans, Donlon remembers. The scoreboard that tallies what Pete Donlon has done for Naselle baseball will always show that he was a winner.