High School Sports

Brain cancer claimed his life. Now his memory fuels his team’s unlikely playoff run

Glen Walker has coached prep baseball for almost 30 years. He’s coached in state championships, he’s coached a Cy Young pitcher and experienced just about all of the other highs and lows.

But as he walked across Auburn Mountainview High School’s turf baseball field toward the wall in right field, he realized nothing had prepared him for the moment he was about to share with his players.

“I don’t know if I’ve done anything right dealing with this,” Walker said. “Or if I should have done anything differently.”

It’s the first time he’s lost one of his players. Sophomore Seth Wood died at 1:25 a.m. earlier that April 29 morning of brain cancer.

Walker got his team’s attention before their Saturday practice and had them take a knee. They were in front of a sign with the words “Give it all you got” written around an image of an Auburn Mountainview-themed home plate with “#9” inscribed in the middle.

That was Seth Wood’s jersey number — Auburn Mountainview’s expected starting shortstop entering this season.

“I sat them down and said, ‘Look, Seth died last night’ … and I don’t even have a clue of what I said after that,” Walker said. “It took me about a minute to get through the first sentence.”

As the Lions enter the 4A district playoffs on Tuesday, they’ll be giving it all they got for Wood.

That wasn’t Auburn Mountainview’s motto before. It belonged to Wood’s Little League team and was instituted by his family after they learned in September of his cancerous brain tumor that was about the size of two golf balls, Wood’s father, John, said.

But it complemented the motto Walker has used the past 12 years since arriving at AMV: “All for one.” So the team raised money for practice jerseys with “Give it all you got” written on the front, and “All for one” with Wood’s No. 9 on the back.

They’ve worn those underneath their game jerseys. Each player wrote “SW9” on their hats and “SETH” is spelled out in blue cups in the fence in front of AMV’s field, alongside flowers, a signed AMV softball and balloon.

“If I would get tired against a batter or losing in the count, I’m like, ‘I’m losing in the count? I’m trying to decide if I want to fight in this count or not and there’s someone part of this team who is trying to fight for life,’” said senior pitcher Alex McBee. “I owe it to that person who can’t be out here to fight for this at-bat.”

Auburn Mountainview was not expected to be fighting for a state playoff berth.

The Lions were moving up from the 3A to bigger 4A classification before the start of the school year, and they had to replace all five infielders from a year ago and their catcher as part of the least experienced group Walker said he’s ever coached.

He said Seth was going to be one beneficiary of those changes.

“I fully intended on Seth being our starting shortstop,” Walker said.

He played on AMV’s fall team, but stopped because of headaches. According to the family’s gofundme.com page, he was then taken to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital in September and they discovered the tumor.

Players visited Seth at his house and in the hospital and some teamed up to help with yard work. AMV played at Safeco Field against West Seattle on April 18 and Seth threw out the first pitch to his older brother, Tristan, who was on the team last year but chose to sit out this season in part because of Seth’s diagnosis.

AMV began the season with two losses in its first three games. The Lions fell to 6-6 when they got, as Walker put it, “boat raced” in a 10-0 loss to Federal Way.

But something changed. Walker likes to believe it was some perspective.

AMV finished the regular season with seven consecutive victories to earn a playoff spot and bye into the first round of the district playoffs, where they will face Rogers at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a loser-out game at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma.

McBee has been a big part of that, with 98 strikeouts and a 1.41 ERA in 44 2/3 innings pitched, while Michael Kramer is batting .491 (27 for 55) and Hayden Byorick is batting .438 (28 for 64).

But Seth has been just as big.

“He’s out there fighting for life and we’re out here fighting for a game,” McBee said, his eyes swelling. “… It puts it in perspective in a sense that you can give this all you got, no matter what is going on because you know there is someone else out there who would give anything just to be out here one more time.

“Through these playoffs and everything that’s going on, he is definitely going to be an inspiration to us and he’s going to be on our minds through everything that’s going on out here.”

Seth was on the team for just a season, playing on the junior varsity team as a freshman while being home-schooled. But his impact was immediate.

“He was always happy,” said center fielder Nathan Schelling. “Always had a smile on his face. He was the hardest worker I have ever seen and probably one of the happiest baseball players I’ve ever played with.”

“He was an electric kid,” said athletic director Chris Carr, who graduated from Auburn High School a year after Seth’s father. “Smile on his face all the time, and had a passion for life and baseball and fishing.”

John Wood was never much of a baseball fan, but somehow his two sons got hooked.

“It was always baseball, fishing and camping were the things we did,” John said. “I don’t know what he would choose between baseball and fishing as his first love.

“All he did was watch Quick Pitch (on MLB Network), the Mariners, ESPN or was reading stuff on the Internet about baseball.”

John said their family has been floored by the support from the baseball team, but also so many others in the community.

“We’ve had so much love and attention from everyone,” Wood said. “The community was hugely supportive of us.

“Seth I thought kind of embodied what a coach and teammate would want. It’s so cliché, especially in this sort of circumstance and I say it as his father, but he was one of those kids. He was competitive, too, but at the same time he was one of those special kids that pretty much everybody loved. And he definitely worked hard.”

Walker said this has been the most unique year he’s been part of. He won a state title at Liberty High School, coaching Tim Lincecum, and another title in 2013 at AMV, but never experienced this.

But he said it’s also been an important lesson to him and his players.

“This was a kid who all he wanted to do was play baseball,” Walker said. “He wants to be able to do what we do. In my opinion, baseball is the greatest game ever created. We have an opportunity to come out to a great facility and play the game that we love and do that every single day. He has kind of rallied us around that and that’s a lesson I want our kids to remember.

“It’s in our minds, in our hearts — we’re playing for Seth out there.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677