Sports

A kind of homecoming for Aaron Sele

Mariners starter and North Kitsap native Aaron Sele unwinds against the San Diego Padres at Safeco Field on May 22.  - JESSE BEALS/Staff Photo
Mariners starter and North Kitsap native Aaron Sele unwinds against the San Diego Padres at Safeco Field on May 22.
— image credit: JESSE BEALS/Staff Photo

The Mariners starter recalls his days growing up in North Kitsap.

Win or lose, up or down, with a lead or without, Aaron Sele is always on the run to and from the mound.

The Poulsbo native and Seattle Mariners starting pitcher never lolls his treks from dugout to hill or hill to dugout.

To do so would be a sign of weakness to teammates and opponents – a lapse in the poise he has developed over his youth, collegiate and 11-year professional baseball career.

“As a pitcher, you run on the field to get loose and keep your blood flowing,” said Sele, the morning after bearing the brunt of a 6-2 loss to the Texas Rangers in early July. “And you run off the field to get your team back in the dugout and show energy.”

He adds one more reason for his jog during a start:

“That’s how I was taught to play.”

There’s no doubt that Sele, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound right hander, was graced with natural talent.

However, the work ethic he gained, the skills he learned and the mental toughness he developed were earned, piece by piece, over the course of the 35-year-old Sele’s baseball career.

“It’s kind of like a plant,” he said.

Sele’s own “plant” grew to be the mightiest of all North Kitsap High School athletes, perhaps the greatest player to come out of the area. But he’ll be the first to say that his career blossomed with the help of his parents, the community and the many coaches that fostered and nourished his game along the way.

One of those coaches was 32-year North Kitsap football skipper Jerry Parrish, who once wrote the word “poise” on the helmet of the Viking senior quarterback.

“Sometimes Aaron would be a little volatile and he’d lose his sense of well being,” Parrish said. “(So) I asked him what the word ‘poise’ meant.”

It is a lesson Sele has never forgotten.

Parrish, who watches his former quarterback on TV and made a trip to the Mariners’ spring training this year, said he’s still amazed to see just how well Sele has learned to maintain his composure.

“It makes me very proud to see a first-class kid performing as a professional athlete,” Parrish said. “I know that on the inside, Aaron’s going 100 miles an hour. But he masks his feelings so well and on the outside, he’s so very collected.”

Local kid

The town where Sele’s seed was sown as a baseball player is less than 15 miles from the place he currently throws his fastball: Safeco Field.

After a shoulder injury a year ago that derailed his pitching career for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Sele was snatched up on a $700,000 minor league contract by the Mariners in January.

Earning his way back into the starting Mariners’ rotation, Sele has compiled a 6-8 record with the team, posting a 4.70 ERA.

It is the third year he has pitched in an M’s uniform, having been in the Seattle rotation during the 2000 and record-setting 2001 seasons.

He admits that his career may be in its twilight phase. But pitching in Seattle has given the veteran big leaguer a chance to be closer to his wife, Jennifer, and their three young daughters, Katherine, 5, Claire, 2, and Caroline, 1, in the family’s Bellevue-area home.

When the time comes to retire, Sele says he’ll welcome the chance to spend more time with his family – and perhaps on a different diamond.

“Fastpitch softball might be my future,” he said, mimicking the large looping motion of a kind of pitch he’s not currently used to. “I might have to go take some lessons, because I have no idea how that motion works.”

Then, it will be his turn to do the coaching.

Aaron Sele’s love of baseball began with a general devotion to competition he had with his neighborhood friends in Edgewater Estates, near Hood Canal.

“We did everything,” Sele said of his childhood posse, which included many other eventual college-bound athletes. “We played tennis, we created games. We just had fun.”

Whether it was Nerf football, tennis, fishing, hiking, hunting or building forts and climbing trees, Sele and his friends battled each other for as long as he can remember.

“It was just something that we did with the neighborhood we grew up in,” Sele said. “We did everything competitively. We even played ‘HORSE’ competitively.”

Like all NK athletes, Sele’s first experiences with baseball were at the North Kitsap Little League fields at Snider Park. He spent a year on the B-string and three years on the A-string.

He was always impressed by the Poulsbo community and its contingent of coaches, each of who continued to help teach kids the game long after their own children grew up.

“I can’t imagine a better place to grow up,” he said.

His baseball career sprouted under his father, Galen Sele, who helped him learn the fundamentals of the game. From there, many coaches influenced his young game, including Ed Moon, who was instrumental in developing Sele’s signature curve ball.

“The great thing was that we ran into good-quality coaches, good quality people,” he said.

Highly talented as a youth, Sele picked up the curve ball early on, something uncommon for the little leaguers of the day.

There was one pitch, however, that he said must be learned first and foremost.

“When you’re growing up, kids need to learn how to throw a fastball for a strike,” he said. “That’s the ultimate basic.”

Three-sport star

Sele’s high school career in North Kitsap involved three sports, sticking with the competitiveness he enjoyed with his Edgewater neighborhood buddies.

The height of his high school athletic prowess was senior year, 1987-88: he went to State in football as the Vikings’ quarterback and in basketball as a forward, and won the state title as the pitcher in baseball.

Many of the same guys on the diamond also played on the North Kitsap-Bainbridge senior Babe Ruth team the summer thereafter that qualified for the national tournament.

“It was just a fun, close-knit group of guys,” he said.

His three high school head coaches – Parrish in football, Jim Harney in basketball and Virg Taylor in baseball – each instilled in Sele intangible skills that would have helped him in any sport he picked to play in college.

Taking the helm of the football team, Sele admits he “didn’t control (his) emotions well.”

So Parrish devised a plan to help Sele.

“He basically turned my linemen on me, and said, ‘OK, if he’s a little out of control, slap him on the head,” Parrish said.

But it was clear early on in high school that baseball was Sele’s forte, and the sport he would play in college.

He remembered how much support he received from his other coaches when it sometimes meant he’d place less emphasis on their own sport.

Sele recalled a time when Harney got the high school pitcher a session with the then-Triple-A Tacoma Tigers pitching coach.

“Jim knew I loved baseball,” Sele said, “and though I wasn’t playing summer basketball, which I knew he wanted me to, he still went out of his way to help me in another sport.”

The two men in high school who helped him develop composure in the sport he’d make a major league career out of – Virg Taylor and Steve Frease – were also the ones who taught him that nothing less than running to and from the pitcher’s mound was acceptable.

“No coach ever goes into the profession with the idea they’re going to have a professional player come out of their program,” Taylor said. “But it’s certainly an added bonus to get one, especially of Aaron’s character.”

Though Taylor admits that Sele had some “embarrassing” moments as a freshman, by his senior year, he was a polished act.

“He didn’t let things bother him,” Taylor said. “He stayed very focused on whatever the goal was at the moment.”

Sele went on to pitch three seasons at Washington State University before heading out to the big leagues, where his first stint was with the Boston Red Sox in 1993, when he was just 23 years old.

Taylor, however, knew that Sele was always going to accomplish his goals at a younger age than expected. He remembers the shock on Sele’s mother Phyllis’ face in the North Kitsap High School main office, when as a freshman, he told her he was starting for the varsity.

“He’s going to play with the big boys?” Sele’s mother questioned.

“He is one of the big boys,” Taylor replied.

Josh Farley is sports editor of the North Kitsap Herald, the Review’s sister newspaper in Poulsbo.

* * * * *

Vs. Bainbridge

Bainbridge High School athletic director Neal White coached the Spartan baseball team during Aaron Sele’s years at North Kitsap.

The lone memory he has of the righthander was a non-league game during Sele’s senior season, in which he outdueled Spartan star Ryan Coleman, who was later drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

“We didn’t have many chances during that game,” White said. “(Sele) was a dominant player. He wasn’t overpowering, but he was a complete pitcher.”

White said Sele’s curveball – still his signature weapon in the majors – was the kind of pitch that could “buckle a hitter’s knees.”

“He had a great breaking ball and could set you up with either pitch and then blow the fastball by you,” White said. “It wasn’t fast, but he had a really good fastball.”

White said he knew Sele was destined for big things and remained a fan as the NK star reached the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels organizations, and two stints with the Mariners.

“I’m glad they resigned him,” he said. “I wanted to see him back over here.”

He’s also glad the team tries to sign local players, such as Willie Bloomquist, John Olerud and Richie Sexson.

“It’s good to see them try and sign local talent,” White said.

– John Becerra, Jr.

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