By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing
SEATTLE – It’s been a while since baseball was this big among Huskies.
And it’s been maybe never since they had a catch like the one Braden Bishop made in their last game.
The supersonic center fielder zoomed from about Hermosa Beach to the wall in right-center field Sunday at USC – and then soared above it to steal a Trojans home-run ball into a key out. That preserved Washington’s 10th consecutive victory.
His coach, Lindsay Meggs, called it perhaps the greatest catch he’d ever seen. And it propelled Bishop to among the national elite.
On the team’s way home from the series sweep at SC, UW assistant sports information director for baseball Brian Tom tracked down the Trojans’ press-box video of Bishop’s remarkable catch. He disseminated it to television stations regionally and to ESPN nationally. A day later, after it finally got into the right hands at the cable-sports giant, there was Bishop as Monday’s No. 1 play on SportsCenter – rated better than even Neil Walker’s dramatic, walk-off home run that won the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season opener that day.
That night, Bishop’s phone pretty much blew up.
“Oh, gosh! I’ve had hundreds (call or text),” he said this week, sitting before practice in the second-floor Omaha Room of Gittinger Team Building overlooking glittering new Husky Ballpark. “I had a friend call me and say, ‘Man, that’s every kid’s dream!’ And then I started thinking about it. My whole childhood was spent watching the Top 10. Da-da-da, da-da-da.
“So that was pretty cool.”
So cool, guys Bishop doesn’t even remember want to reconnect with him.
“I had somebody I went to second grade with (in California) – I didn’t have his number – he texted me like I had his number,” Bishop said. “Then, he called me, and I didn’t answer it because I didn’t have his number. And he said, ‘Why won’t you answer my calls?!’
“I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know who this is!’”
Everyone wants to know a Husky baseball player entering three, huge home games – weather permitting -- against second-place and No. 19 Oregon (21-8, 6-3) Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon at Husky Ballpark.
Washington (20-5-1, 8-1 Pac-12), up to 14th in Baseball America’s latest national poll, has won 10 consecutive games and 17 of its last 18. This is UW's best start to a season since 1985, when it began 27-2.
The Huskies have surprised everyone outside their new clubhouse by taking an early, two-game lead in the league. This week they went from unranked to 14th, their first place in the Baseball America Top 25 since May 1, 2006. Collegiate Baseball has the Huskies ranked 11th this week – a jump of eight spots from its previous poll.
Washington made its season debuts in the Perfect Game College Top 25 at 18th, USA Today Coaches Poll at 22nd and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) at 24th.
It’s indeed been a powerful surge: The Huskies have 14 home runs, most in the conference, in 26 games. Last season Washington hit just 10 homers in all 56 games it played.
The Dawgs are 8-0 since playing their first game inside their new, $15 million “Diamond on Montlake” two weekends ago. And coach Lindsay Meggs doesn’t think that’s a coincidence.
“There’s a level of confidence that might have began with the ballpark. Being able to walk out of this building onto this field gives you a little bit of swagger,” Meggs, the man behind the new yard who is in his fifth season leading UW, said looking out at his new, jewel diamond.
“And then we’ve strung some wins together. We’ve been able to win games in different ways since we’ve stepped foot in the new ballpark. We’ve won with some quality relief pitching. We’ve won with some power at the plate. And we’ve won because we made some plays on defense.
“I think our guys just feel like, at this point in time, we know how to win a game. And that’s a good feeling.”
They haven’t lost since March 14 to begin the Pac-12-opening series at Arizona State. The Huskies won the final two games in Tempe, including the last one 4-3 in 11 innings on a home run by Andrew Ely. That gave UW its first series win at ASU since 2004 -- the last season the Huskies made the NCAA tournament.
This winning streak is Washington’s longest since it won 11 straight in March 2008. It’s been since 1997 that the Huskies have had a win streak this long that has included wins over conference rivals.
Meggs sees a pre-Husky Ballpark turning point to this wowing spring: UW’s 8-2 loss to 10th-ranked Indiana Feb. 21 in Surprise, Ariz. The Huskies snoozed through that one. They were picked off base three times in the first three innings and junior starter Jared Fisher (2-2, 5.40 ERA), who will start Friday against Oregon, allowed 13 hits and six runs in 5 1-3 innings.
“When we came back from that trip we had a long, kind of ugly talk that there is a fine line between winning and losing,” Meggs said. “This university and this athletic program at the University of Washington are about winning. And we needed to figure out how we can win with this group; we had to figure out how to win. That game against Indiana and that trip, it was so early for us. We were still trying to figure out roles and depth and a level of toughness that didn’t exist at that time.
“That helped us. It helped us to get throttled by those guys. It was easy for me to stand in front of our group and say, ‘This is a team that’s been to the College World Series. This is what they do and why they are successful. This is what we don’t do.’”
That was then.
Scaling walls. Landing on SportsCenter. Perfect since opening their new park.
These Huskies are doing it all right now.