Michael Toglia has a deadly pitching arsenal. In addition to the usual fastball/changeup combo, Toglia, a Washington State commit, has some other pitches to watch out for.
“He threw the riser, the screwing riser, the knuckleball — everything you can think of,” junior teammate Colton Robinson said. “The cutter, the two-seam — anything.”
No, Toglia doesn’t employ all of these pitches on the baseball diamond at Gig Harbor High School, where both play on the varsity squad. These pitches were signature whiffle ball pitches that Toglia used in his backyard over the years.
Toglia, Robinson and senior pitcher Matthew Henckel all live next door to each other in Gig Harbor, 1-2-3 in a row. There’s a hole in the fence between Toglia’s house and Robinson’s, which is big enough for people to squeeze through. Most neighbors would probably patch it up. But these three — and their families — aren’t like most neighbors. They’re more like family.
Toglia’s house is sandwiched in the middle of the three houses, and the boys grew up playing hours upon hours of whiffle ball in Toglia’s backyard. Home plate was right next to the lone tree in the corner of the backyard. Second base, the flower beds. Third base, an elevated hump of grass. Hit it over the house, home run.
“Just every day, I would wake up thinking, ‘Alright, let’s go play whiffle ball,” Henckel said. “It was great being able to just play without thinking and having fun.”
Robinson, who said almost every game they played revolved around baseball in some way, can picture specific plays over the years in his mind. Like when Robinson and Henckel were teamed up against Toglia and his two little brothers — Sebastian and Zachary. Toglia hit a double into the gap, near the basketball hoop, and Sebastian was sprinting for home to tie the game. Henckel wasn’t having any part of that.
“Henckel just picked it up with one hand and threw a missile and hit Sebastian as he was running home for the tying run,” Robinson recalled. “That was the final out of the game, and I remember he was just devastated for like a week. I remember that play so vividly.”
Or when Toglia came at Robinson with his coveted sinking screwball.
“I just tomahawked it over the house,” Robinson said.
It wasn’t all fun and games. Sometimes the competition got the best of the three boys. A few years ago, they purchased a Smartphone app intended for baseball statistic keeping. They used it for whiffle ball.
“Whoever wasn’t hitting, they’d keep track of singles, doubles and triples or whatever,” Henckel said. “We’d always look who had the best average, the best on-base percentage. We’d get super into it.”
Feelings were hurt, especially with Toglia’s younger brothers, who couldn’t keep pace statistically with the older boys.
“I remember our friendship fluctuating a lot, up and down, based on who won and who lost, who was doing the best,” Toglia said, laughing. “When we kept stats, that was probably the worst thing we could’ve ever done. People were crying, running away through the hole in the fence.”
But they’d be back the next day, ready for more. While other kids were inside playing video games, these three boys practically lived outside.
“Everything was somehow athletically oriented,” Robinson said. “We were never just inside doing nothing. Everything we did was somehow geared toward baseball.”
Their proclivity for all things baseball carried into high school; all three are standout players for the Tides. With Henckel headed to the University of Oregon and Toglia committed to Washington State, there’s a good chance Henckel will pitch against Toglia in college. Keeping a straight face will be the biggest challenge.
“That’s going to be really fun,” Henckel said. “I know how I’ll pitch him. I’ve already got it planned out.”
Maybe Henckel has a plan of attack against Toglia, but the future Cougar isn’t worried.
“I know every pitch in his arsenal,” Toglia said. “There’s no way he’s going to get a ball by me. They better put four outfielders out there if he’s pitching against me.”