It’s a wonder how Eatonville High School’s senior night baseball game finished before midnight.
There was Brooks Moeller, playing for the final time on a field he might as well have been born on, and the final home game playing for Mike Moeller, who was coaching Eatonville baseball on that field before his youngest son Brooks could breathe.
Of the 18 players on Eatonville’s roster that night, 15 were seniors and 12 have been playing baseball together since they could throw a ball and swing a bat.
This team is such a cliché small-town team that they all know each other’s parents as well as each other. Just about all have family on the team — not just Mike and Brooks — and three of them have a twin.
A few of them spoke of plans to come back when they’re 40 years old and talk about baseball, maybe stopping by Cruiser Café for a milkshake like they’ve done at times.
Brooks was asked how special this ride with this team has been before he cut off the question.
“Not yet, not yet,” Brooks said. “I’m saving the sentimental stuff for the end of the year and we’re not done yet. Not at all — just the beginning.”
Eighth-ranked Eatonville is in the state playoffs for the first time in a decade, opening against No. 5 W.F. West at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wheeler Field in Centralia, where Mike Moeller grew up and went to high school.
Mike Moeller is wrapping up his 19th season coaching the Cruisers and earned his 200th career in a 3-1 victory against 3A Spanaway Lake and has since pushed his career record to 215-183.
But this group has been one of the most unique. Not only that his son is batting .458 with 33 hits, 25 runs, 25 RBIs, 11 doubles and 12 stolen bases as the Cruisers’ full-time first baseman, but Brooks is just one of 12 seniors Mike has seen play since they were about 3 feet tall. His wife taught most of them in her preschool class.
“They’ve known me not just as coach, but as dad, or husband of their teacher — it’s made it a different dynamic,” Mike said. “In any other situation I would never keep 15 kids. But they’ve been playing with each other for so long and all of them have been willing to take on secondary roles.”
Mike keeps a picture of he and his two sons, Ryan and Brooks, when they were ages 5 and 2 respectively. They’re on a four-wheeler pulling a drag mat on the baseball field at Eatonville Elementary School, just before Brooks first began attending his father’s youth camps there.
So the one home run he’s hit this season appropriately came in his final at bat on that field — on senior night — hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat River Ridge by the 10-run mercy rule.
“That was kind of cool,” Brooks said.
“At first I thought I just popped it up and I guess it kept going. Then I saw it go over and I got a rush of adrenaline and felt such joy to finish my last home game like that. It came in a pretty good spot.”
Brooks was also a first-team, all-league football and basketball player for Eatonville this year, which was part of the reason Mike said he and his wife moved to Eatonville was so his kids could have the opportunity to play multiple sports.
After graduating from Centralia, Mike went to Huntington Beach, California, to attend Golden West Community College. His first coaching job was for a middle school girls basketball team in Anaheim when he was 19 years old, before he moved back. He later coached five years at Gig Harbor with Pete Jansen, who is still the Tides’ coach, including when they won the state title in 1997.
The next year, Mike began his tenure at Eatonville and shortly after Brooks was born.
“It’s been a lot of fun coaching him,” Mike said. “The number of hours we’ve spent here, on this field — when I got here it was a whole different place. And what’s nice is that all these kids have been around Brooks the whole time. I’ve got to watch them grow with him.”
They might have grown, sure, but Mike said most of their personalities have stayed the same. Justin Brandt is frequently at their house, mimicking swings of famous major leaguers with Brooks in the backyard. Mike coached most of them on their youth teams, too, but he still sometimes gets his three sets of twins on the team mixed up — AJ and TJ Goetz, Jared and Jacob Henricksen and Colin and Andrew Streich.
“It’s been really special being with kids you’ve played with since you were five or six years old and being so close to everybody,” catcher Joel Rodriguez said. “And, honestly, everyone on the team is close.”
Eatonville moved up from the 1A Evergreen Conference back to the 2A South Puget Sound League before the school year, but the Cruisers still found a way to send their seniors off with the school’s first state berth since 2007.
“Playing together forever, this is what we’ve been dreaming out since were six,” senior Daniel Fuller said. “This is what we’ve been after this entire time.”
“Baseball has been the thing that has always brought us together,” Brandt said. “You look at us and we’re a small 2A school, but I think that’s what makes us special. We have that camaraderie and that togetherness that you can’t duplicate. These are my brothers and I’d do anything for them. They’re my family.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677