ILWACO - They played T-ball together, then Little League, Babe Ruth, and the trio of Anthony Wirkkala, Alex Martin, and Paul Blaylock made up one-third of Ilwaco High School's starting nine from the time they were freshmen until this year when they will graduate. Now they will all be going off to college and they'll be taking their gloves and bats with them as they get ready to compete on the diamond at the collegiate level.
Wirkkala signed a letter of intent to Central Washington University May 30, Martin is set to play at Clackamas College, and Blaylock has his sites on Lane College in Eugene, Ore. Each has earned a B or B+ average during their high school days and all three have played other varsity sports while at IHS. Wirkkala is quite likely the first athlete in school history to be named all-league first team in baseball, basketball, and football. Martin was a blue chip running back and defensive back in football and Blaylock was the Fishermen's point guard this past season in basketball.
Baseball is the first love of Wirkkala as he proudly says, "I'm an all-American boy and baseball is the all-American sport. I love it." Blaylock, sounding a bit Ruthian, adds, "Baseball is the greatest sport known to man. I thought about going to college and not playing, but at the last minute decided I would miss it too much." Martin relates, "I actually like football a little better. I wish there was a way to combine baseball and football."
The three are all confident they will succeed at the collegiate level, even though the competition will be much stiffer than in high school. "I'm confident I'll do well," Wirkkala states matter-of-factly. Blaylock adds, "Oh ya, confidence is the key." Martin agrees, "Confidence is the main thing to being successful."
Wirkkala, as a pitcher, is close to the school record for most victories along with Sam Eilers and has hit in the .300s and .400s for his career and also may be close to the school record in home runs. He played shortstop and third base when not pitching since his freshman season. Martin has started in centerfield from day one and also hit in the .300 to .400 range throughout his career, while being one of the top base stealers in school history. Blaylock, a second baseman by trade, has a similar batting average and is arguably the best bunter to come out of IHS's program.
"My biggest thrill was hitting two home runs against Castle Rock this year and coming very close to pitching a no-hitter at Kalama, but we lost both games," Wirkkala says with a shrug. Blaylock remembers batting .800 at the Babe Ruth state tournament for Astoria, "And they still had me batting ninth in the order," he jokes about the home town coaching. Martin says with a grin, "I had 11 home runs in Little League one year and won the Babe Ruth home run hitting contest. I used to hit the ball so hard in T-ball they moved me up so I wouldn't hurt anyone."
The trio was a big part of the only winning Fishermen baseball season in 2005 with a record of 13-9 and all three have been at least honorable mention all-league picks since their sophomore years. Wirkkala, Blaylock, and Martin all said their families were big contributors and gave them much appreciated support and their former Ilwaco High School coach was the most influential in their achieving success.
Wirkkala will study sports medicine and physical education at CWU. He says of going to college, "It will be hard at first, but it's something I have to do." He is playing for Red Lion American Legion team this summer in Longview in preparation for his collegiate baseball career.
Martin is undecided between sports medicine and fire science as a major. "I'm ready for school, looking forward to it actually. I'll still come back to visit, though." He plans on playing Legion baseball for the Seaside Renegades and working in the construction business over the summer. "I'll lift weights, too."
Blaylock's plans for the summer will take him to Alaska where he has a gill net job waiting for him in a few weeks. While he likely won't be playing much baseball up north, he will be strengthening his hands and legs on the boat in a conditioning program worthy of a Rocky movie sequel. "I can't wait to go to college. It will be a new beginning for me in a different town, a bigger city," he says of his matriculation to Eugene.
Wirkkala's favorite baseball player is Randy Johnson, Martin chose to go "old school" by picking Mickey Mantle, and Blaylock picks Brett Boone, former Mariner's second baseman and all-star. He spoke for the group of all stars in their own right when Blaylock concluded by saying, "We want to thank everybody here who helped us along the way."
Wirkkala played in the all-state feeder game in Longview and was one of four players chosen among over 40 high schools to move on to the state games in Yakima. He will play June 10 and forgo his senior sneak after graduating June 9. He and Naselle's Brad York in 1992 are the only area seniors to have ever competed in the prestigious event viewed by professional baseball scouts.
Blaylock, Martin, and Wirkkala were to play one final high school baseball game together June 7 at Lower Columbia College's Story Field in an all-star game, but the contest went for naught. The next time local fans will see the three key members of Ilwaco's baseball team for the past four years and three pretty exceptional young men play the game they love will be on a college diamond.