For Gig Harbor High School grad Matthew Henckel, playing Division I college baseball didn’t go according to plan, the first time around.
Henckel signed with the University of Oregon after a stellar high school career and figured he would be competing for playing time as early as his freshman year. But the coaches saw things differently, and told Henckel as much before the season began.
“They told me it would be more beneficial for me to move on to a community college and develop a little bit more,” Henckel said. “They told me I wouldn’t get any playing time.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for the former Tides’ star lefty.
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“It was definitely tough at first,” Henckel said. “It would be tough for anyone to hear that.”
So Henckel came back close to home, enrolling at Tacoma Community College, where he’s now entering his sophomore year. His performance as a freshman opened up some other Division-I eyes in Spokane, however. Now, Henckel is committed to play baseball at Gonzaga University, following his sophomore season at TCC. The Gonzaga coaching staff was familiar with Henckel and still liked what it saw.
“They have a little history with me, recruited me out of high school. They had a background on me,” Henckel said.
For Henckel, playing in Spokane was ultimately a fairly easy decision.
“This is probably overused, but it felt like family there,” he said. “They’re very accepting of everybody. They really understand you’re not just there to be an athlete or a student, you’re both. One isn’t more important than the other. There was a real community feel within the team.”
Henckel has worked on his strength during his time at TCC, as well as improving the mental side of pitching.
“As a pitcher, you look at it on TV or going to a game, they make it look easy because they’re doing all the small things correctly, knowing the ins and outs of the game,” Henckel said. “If you have to do all those things at a very high level, it’s a little harder.”
Gonzaga has had some luck recently getting pitchers to the big leagues, including Marco Gonzales, who was a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 MLB draft, and Cody Martin, who is currently with the Seattle Mariners organization.
“It’s really good to see they take that seriously, they want guys to move onto the next level,” Henckel said. “There’s a focus on development and health of the pitchers. There’s no guarantee to move onto next level, but they’ll do everything in their power to get you there.”
Mostly, Henckel is ready for a second chance to prove himself at college baseball’s highest level.
“I’m extremely eager,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot more experience at TCC. I’ll be able to get into this with an understanding of what it’s like. I’m more prepared. I’m not anxious. I can go in with a good understanding. I’m very eager now that I have that base knowledge. I’m just excited to be a part of the team, be a part of something greater than just me, keep developing as a player. Each level, you’re developing, get to a certain point, then you get on to the next level. Now I’m here, still developing. I want to accelerate my game to the next level.”