To close out its awesome regular season this weekend, the Washington baseball team would love to hand the ball to the dude who just walked in wearing flip flops and a white tank top that boasts, in bold letters: DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
Troy Rallings, his hair ruffled as if he just woke from a mid-afternoon nap, a meditation symbol hanging from his neck, colorful tattoos peeking out from his chest, carries the quintessential look of what you would expect of a young man from Seal Beach, Calif. There isn’t a wave, you think, this guy can’t ride.
He is, you soon discover, much more than his appearance.
He is, for the Huskies, a savior with an unsavory demeanor on the mound. A Buddhist with a scowl. A closer without a care.
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Rallings has found his Zen in the ’pen. And with him there, in his oxymoronic state of blissful madness, the Huskies are about to find their way back to the postseason for the first time in a decade.
“I know I’m a crazy person, but it works,” he said. “Normal is boring.”
Rallings, a sophomore right-hander, is 5-0 with a 1.74 earned-run average in 29 appearances for the No. 8 Huskies. In his first season as the closer, he has converted all nine of his save opportunities entering UW’s final series of the regular season against defending national champion UCLA (23-29, 10-17) starting Friday at new Husky Ballpark.
The Huskies, who haven’t played in the postseason since 2004, are safely in the NCAA tournament field, according to Baseball America. A series win over UCLA would bolster UW’s chances of hosting a first-round regional next week for the first time in program history. The NCAA field will be announced Monday.
Rallings traces part of that success — both his and the team’s — to his daily meditation, a practice he picked up last summer.
“I’ve always been kind of, for whatever reason, drawn to Eastern cultures,” he said. “The benefits have been unbelievable.” His “Om” meditation necklace, he said, is a symbol “that the vibe within me exists within everyone else, exists within the entire universe.
“I would describe my state on the mound as very Zen. It’s very relaxed. Even though it’s the moments of the highest intensity, I’m more relaxed in those chaotic situations than I am anywhere else in my life.”
That relaxed feeling belies his physical presence on the mound. When called upon, he sprints from the bullpen to the mound, skipping over the foul line, and often pounds his chest with the intensity of a 350-horsepower washing machine.
Rallings said being a closer is “in my blood — it’s what I was born to do.” He relishes the pressure. He wants to face the opponent’s best hitters in the most intense situations.
“There’s definitely no fear. There’s no challenge he will back down from,” UW catcher Austin Rei said. “He just goes after guys. He doesn’t care who’s up there. He doesn’t care what the score is. He just wants to get those three outs as fast as possible.”
Growing up in Southern California, Rallings did indeed surf. He was also a big college baseball fan; his family had season tickets to Long Beach State, with seats right behind home plate. For years, he said, he attended at least two games a weekend, watching future major-league standouts Jered Weaver, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and Jason Vargas build the Dirtbags into a national power. Rallings has tried to model his game after Weaver’s.
“This is obviously what you grow up dreaming about,” Rallings said.
The dream season continues for Rallings and the Huskies. As it rolls toward the postseason, they’ll try to ride the wave as long as possible.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364
On Twitter: @a_jude