When the Seattle Studs first showed up to play in the National Baseball Congress World Series more than 20 years ago, they made an impression.
They were the Studs, after all. Never mind that the nickname reflects the team’s owner, Ben Cheney, who has been credited with inventing the 2-by-4, owned a lumber company in Tacoma, Wash., and helped subsidize the Studs.
When you decide to call yourselves the Studs, you learn to live with expectations. And for the most part, the baseball team from the Pacific Northwest has lived up to them — with one glaring exception.
In 18 previous World Series, the Studs had won zero. They finished second in three of the past five tournaments. Their manager, Barry Aden, experienced the disappointment of those close calls and was with the Tacoma Timbers in 1996 when that team, unbeaten on championship night, was defeated twice by the El Dorado Broncos.
So when Seattle third baseman Kyle Boe made the long throw across the infield to first baseman Bobby LeCount for the final out in a 5-1 win over the Wellington Heat on Saturday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the Studs acted like a bunch of school girls. They went crazy in celebration, hopping around and falling down and doing what a bunch of guys who understand how meaningful this championship is do.
“It feels like a million pounds was taken off our shoulders,’’ Aden said. “Finally, it’s our turn.’’
The Studs, unbeaten this year in six tournament games, started accumulating Wichita fans years ago and the group has multiplied over the years. The 75 or so most vocal fans behind the team’s dugout were beaming as the Studs players dogpiled near the pitcher’s mound, where right-hander David Benson had completed a four-hit masterpiece, losing his shutout in the ninth inning.
When Aden went to the mound after Wellington scored a run, he wasn’t about to pull Benson.
“I just told him what a pleasure it had been to watch him pitch for us,’’ Aden said.
Benson exemplifies what the Studs are about. He’s from nearby Everett and went to VCU to play baseball. Now almost 25, he’s not ready to stop doing what he loves. A Stud since 2008, he will go down in history as an NBC World Series Most Valuable Player and, more importantly, the guy who finally got a win in his third championship-game start.
Benson, catcher Garrett Brenda and pitcher Taylor Thompson have been with the Studs for six years. That’s typical for the team, which relies mostly on players who are from the area and has only a handful of guys who competed on the Division I level.
“Four championship games in six years says a lot about us,’’ Aden said. “We don’t have Division I players usually; we’re Division II and NAIA guys. That’s always been our make-up.’’
The Studs are a phenomenon in Wichita. They sell merchandise during the NBC World Series and it almost always flies off the shelves.
Yet in Tacoma, where the Studs play their home games, they are largely ignored.
“There’s a lot to do in Seattle and the area and when we play a game at home there are usually 40 or 50 people in the stands,’’ Aden said. “And it’s almost all wives, girlfriends, moms and dads. We don’t get people walking up to buy a ticket and watch a ballgame.’’
The Studs play in the Pacific International League, which includes seven teams from Canada. Most of those teams are punchless, Aden said, so finding strong competition is a challenge.
“So we go to Humboldt to play the Crabs or to Marysville to play the Gold Sox,’’ Aden said, referring to two teams from northern California. “A couple of years ago we went to Santa Barbara to play the Foresters and had some games with the Conejo Oaks. We try to get to places like that to play tougher competition so that when we get here we’re not surprised by what we see.’’
This was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Studs, Aden said. Just before the NBC World Series started on July 27, Seattle’s best hitter, first baseman Brady Steiger, signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees. Steiger had been hitting .427 in 32 games with the Studs and his 39 RBIs are still 13 more than any other Seattle player.
But when the Studs step off the bus in Wichita, something happens. They’re transformed.
“We turn it up a notch when we get to this tournament,’’ Aden said. “We have more support here than we do at home. That’s why when we play here it feels like a home game. Plus, we’ve played a lot of games in this tournament over the years. So a lot of people here have seen us.’’
Wellington, in its first season with the Heat, was the crowd favorite. But the Heat never generated any, shut down by the determined Benson.
The Studs weren’t about to let another potential World Series championship slip away.
“This is our 60th year in existence,’’ Aden said. “We started in 1954.’’
It was about time.