By Chris Magruder
The1998 Washington baseball team may be the best in school history. That remains to be seen.
But its preseason ranking of 12th in Baseball America magazine is the highest ranked that the UW has ever had, and the Dawgs are ranked in the top 20 in three other polls as well.
All the high rankings are due in large part to the continues building of success in the program over the past five years. Since Ken Knutson took over as head coach in 1993, the team has had two second-place, and three first-place finishes in the Pac-10 Northern Division.
Knutson's 1993 team won the Pac-10 North and in 1994, despite finishing second in the division, the Huskies finished second at an NCAA Regional.
In 1997, the Huskies won the overall Pac-10 Championship over Southern champion Stanford. Knutson has led the Huskies to the regional final twice, one game away from the College World Series.
The success has had a snowball effect. The better the Huskies do, the more talented players their able to attract to the program.
This year's club is led by a strong group of veteran players. The junior class came to the University of Washington as the eighth-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 1995. The group developed quickly as, in 1996, an average of six freshmen started each game.
Some key members of that class are catcher Ryan Bundy, third baseman Ryan Lentz, shortstop Kevin Miller, and outfielder Chris Magruder.
Miller, the highest drafted player to ever come to the University of Washington out of high school, has been a solid number three hitter in the Husky lineup during his whole career. He has been a great producer of runs in that spot. Last year he broke the school record for runs batted in, while also smashing 12 home runs. Miller says, "The reason we have become a national power is because offensively we are dangerous one through nine."
Bundy has one of the best arms of any catcher in college baseball. His size and athletic ability provide the Huskies with great defense, speed, and explosive offensive potential. Bundy credits the Huskies success to "an explosive offensive lineup, along with great team chemistry."
Lentz, along with Miller, makes the Huskies' left side of the infield a strong one. Lentz also hits in the middle of the Husky lineup, where called upon for run production and power. Last year, he broke the school record for doubles with 26.
Added to the strong corps is a wealth of other strong players. Led by pitcher/DH Bryan Williamson, who may be one of Washington's top pitching prospects, many other players factor into the powerful mix. Along with Williamson, Travis Anderson and Matt Hampton provide strong starting pitching, with many other young pitchers who will also be a factor.
Other talented ballplayers provide the Huskies with solid defense and strong offense - players like captain Jim Na, Nick Stefonick, Kyle Woods, Pete Orgill, Dominic Woody, and Ed Erickson.
But one of the most important things that the Huskies have, is what they bring to the new Husky Ballpark everyday, hustle and hard work. This team may be one of the hardest working in the nation. The baseball team takes the weight program very seriously, and many players on the team credit their vast improvements in the weight room as one of their biggest assets on the field.
The hard work does pay off. It has brought a lot of success to a program that plays and practices in the rain every winter, and still called upon to compete on a national level with teams that play in the sun year round.
Now, perhaps against the odds, the Huskies have put themselves in a position to gain even more national and regional respect. It's something that the plays have fought to achieve, and just another step in the rising Husky baseball program.
Chris Magruder is a junior outfielder on the UW baseball team and also a UW athletic media relations intern. He was named a first-team preseason All-American this preseason.