The senior became an ace for the second-ranked Bears, who open play at state Saturday, and his dad Curt will be there — which was far from a sure thing during the winter.
Daydreaming about baseball, grilling and sunny days isn’t uncommon during winter months.
Those thoughts became essential for Curt Dazell. Confined to the intensive-care unit at Swedish Hospital last winter for pancreatitis, Dazell dreamed of days like Tuesday where he sat in a Tahoma baseball dugout watching his only son practice in preparation for the Bears’ Class 4A state tournament game Saturday.
Nick cracked a ball off the bat and watched it sail over the fence. Curt perked up.
When: Saturday is regionals (the round of 16 and quarterfinals); semifinals are May 25 and state championship games are May 26.
Where: Class 4A/3A semis and championships in Pasco; Class 2A/1A semis and championship in Yakima; Class 2B/1B semis and championship in Centralia.
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Richland’s senior class is at it again. Members of the state-qualifying baseball team were stars in the Bombers’ Class 4A football state title. Richland also made it to state in basketball, placing sixth. ... Skyview senior Daniel Copeland, the unanimous pick for the Greater St. Helen’s League player of the year, led the GSHL in hitting and is a big reason why the Storm is back in the Class 4A tournament. Copeland will play for Gonzaga next year. ... Mercer Island placed third in the Class 3A tourney last year. The Islanders have 11 seniors whose first taste of the big stage was a loss in the Little League World Series’ Northwest Region semifinals. ... Ellensburg is building a legacy in the Class 2A tournament. The five seniors aim to defend their title, which would be the program’s third in the past four years.
Five players to watch
• P Brady McLean, Puyallup, Sr. (8-0, 1.24 ERA, 56.2 IP, 48 K)
• P Nate Clow, Todd Beamer, So. (7-0, 1.28 ERA, 56 IP, 73 K)
• SS Zane Baker, Lakeside, Sr. (.600 average, 36 RBI, 5 HR)
• SS Greg Fuchs, Mercer Island, Sr. (.486 average, 25 RBI)
• P Cameron Smith, Arlington, Jr. (7-1, 1.62 ERA, 52 IP, 43 K).
4A: Puyallup (defending champs), Tahoma, Skyview, Moses Lake. 3A: Southridge (defending champs), Mercer Island, O’Dea, Arlington. 2A: Ellensburg (defending champs), WF West, Centralia, Selah. 1A: King’s Way Christian (defending champs), Cedar Park Christian (Bothell), College Place, Naches Valley. 2B: Colfax (defending champs), Tri-Cities Prep, Adna, Wahkiakum. 1B: Pomeroy (defending champs), Almira-Coulee-Hartline, Naselle.
Did you know? Of the 88 teams vying for a state baseball championship, Almira/Coulee-Hartline (22-0) is the only one that’s undefeated. The Warriors were 7-0 in games on neutral sites. The team placed second at state last year and won the championship in 2010.
“Wow, you’re muscling up, boy! It’s about time you eat your Wheaties,” he yelled to Nick as loud as he could. The life-threatening illness depleted Curt’s energy, stripped him of 100 pounds and had him bedridden for three months.
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“This was the goal … me getting back to seeing the kids play ball,” said Dazell, whose freshman daughter Emma plays catcher for Tahoma’s softball team (17-4), which will play at districts this weekend.
Nick, a senior right-handed pitcher, has helped Tahoma assemble a season better than his father dreamed. The Bears (20-3) went undefeated in North Puget Sound League play and are ranked second in the state in the 4A classification, according to the WashingtonBaseballPoll.com.
Dazell, who was named Cascade Division MVP, was 7-0 on the mound with a 0.50 ERA in 42 innings with 66 strikeouts. The lefty batted .472 with 16 RBI.
Teammates call Dazell “The Gardener” because he wears gardening gloves to bat. Chants of “rake it up” can be heard from the dugout when Dazell is at the plate with his signature wooden bat.
The attention is new despite knowing most of the players since childhood. Last season, Dazell was a bullpen arm with a 7.00 ERA in 14 innings. He managed just two hits in 10 at-bats.
“The (assistant) coaches were mad at me because they had Nick as a bubble player to make the roster this season,” Tahoma coach Russ Hayden said. “I told them they didn’t understand; Nick is a leader. He had guys working out in the weight room after school and I always thought he had a nice swing but had tough luck last year. I also thought he’d pitch a little. Never did we dream that he’d be our No. 1. He’s just stepped up and has been rock solid.”
Dazell said he was already motivated to have a better senior season because of his talented classmates, including best friend in senior outfielder Kyle Sherick, who plans to walk-on at Seattle University. Curt Dazell’s illness heightened Nick’s purpose.
He was visiting a friend in Arizona during winter break when he got the call when his father was checked into the hospital in early December. Heather Dazell, Curt’s wife, and his daughter were also in Arizona at a softball tournament.
Curt was alone in the hospital for four days before his family could join him. Doctors ruled out cancer early, but, according to Curt, had trouble pinpointing his pain. Eventually doctors found a cyst the size of a 2-liter soda bottle on his pancreas that had to be drained.
Last weekend was the first time Curt could eat on his own. His favorite hobby is grilling, cooking steaks, burgers, sausages and pineapples for his family.
“It was hard to not have him around every day,” Nick said. “There’s a different perspective with the little things that I didn’t appreciate before, like him grilling with us or throwing the Frisbee in the front yard. It’s not back to normal, but the super small things are drawn out. … It’s shocking to realize the difference this has caused in all of our lives.”
One thing that didn’t change was Curt watching his kids play. He sat in his folding chair behind home plate bundled in blankets and a sleeping bag to watch his son pitch. Tahoma’s 10-0 win against Federal Way for the NPSL title was a highlight. Nick gave up just two hits and struck out 14 batters.
Curt plans to travel to Pasco for the state semifinals and championship games. First, Tahoma has to defeat Richland (14-10) at Heritage Park in Puyallup on Saturday.
“We definitely bond over baseball,” said Nick, who’ll study mathematics and pitch for Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. “Even when it was scariest, he wanted to be sure I was getting my baseball workouts in and that he was going to be at the games. … I’m super fortunate to have him here.”