A big-time encounter on Missoula Avenue

A big-time encounter on Missoula Avenue

Dougie Peoples once tagged out four runners in one play in a Little League baseball game.

I saw it with my own eyes. I swear.

He did it the hard way, too.

It was a coach-pitch game on the Missoula Avenue North Field in Butte. Peoples, who is now a soon-to-be sophomore at Butte Central, was playing against my daughter’s team.

Peoples was 5 or 6 years old, and he was a competitor. Like his little brother Ryan, who was busy teaching my son Grady how to climb a fence at the time of the four outs, Dougie only knew one gear on the baseball field, and that was all out.

In coach pitch that year, every player on each team batted every inning. Games only lasted three or four innings, but they took forever. For. Eh. Ver.

When the last batter in the lineup batted, everybody just kept running the bases until they touched home plate. Dougie saw that as a dare.

Assuming the defensive position on top of the pitcher’s mound, Dougie fielded a hard shot up the middle.

Instead of just heading home to get the runner, he ran over and tagged the batter on his way to first base. Then, he ran and tagged out the runner heading home.

Rather than wait to tag the other two at the plate, Dougie ran toward the middle of the infield for his third out. He ran down the fourth out from behind between third base and home.

To this day, that is one of the coolest things I have seen on the Missoula North Field, where about 75 percent of my favorite memories as a Little League coach have come.

That is the field where I watched Ian Bray pitch an inning while wearing a pair of Heelys. It is where I saw Matty “Wheels” Lockmer hit a season-ending grand slam.

It is the field where I saw Taylor Farren hit an inside-the-park home run that should have been a scene in a movie. It is where Nolan “Tanner Boyle” Bisch kept screaming my name from left field until I broke down and let him have a bathroom break in the middle of an inning.

It is the same field where I watched Grady slug two deep inside-the-park home runs in one game while playing in the 7-8 division.

It was also driving to that very field when 7-year-old Grady told me he was going to be a professional baseball player. He said he wanted to make a ton of money so he could give it to kids with cancer.

Of course, because Grady knows baseball, he was going to play for the Boston Red Sox.

This Fourth of July, however, I saw something that rivaled all of that.

On the afternoon of the Fourth, I saw Jeremy Wu-Yelland, just 23 days removed from being the fourth-round pick by the Red Sox in the MLB Draft, working out on the same Little League field all by himself.

Just a few feet from where Dougie got his fourth out, the left-handed pitcher slowly tossed balls against the backstop, working on his delivery.

I had heard the Red Sox draftee, a Spokane, Washington native who pitched for the University of Hawaii, was going to be in town over the holiday weekend, but I kind of took the see-it-to-believe-it approach.

My friend Billy Dunmire, who was working to find a catcher so Wu-Yelland could throw a bullpen session while he was in town visiting his girlfriend’s family, said he thought the pitcher would work out on the afternoon of the third or the morning of the Fourth.

Then, he said it would happen on the morning of the fifth on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.

Whenever it was, I said I would be there to write a story about it, figuring it would be a 50/50 chance of actually happening.

Seriously, a recently-drafted baseball player working out in Butte, where we have not had professional baseball since the Copper Kings left town two decades ago?

This Fourth of July was looking like a boring one because our family decided we would be one of the few to skip out on barbecues and parties. We figured we would do our part to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

To break up the boredom, Grady and I decided to head up to the Missoula Avenue fields for a little batting practice.

Because Grady has the tendency to foul balls onto the street, we decided to head to the South Field, where there was less of a chance of him shattering a windshield of a passerby.

After throwing a couple of buckets to Grady, I noticed a car pull up at the North Field. Another dad to throw to his son, I figured.

Instead, I saw what looked like a real baseball player step onto the field alone.

When he started doing stretches that looked like clips from spring training, I thought, “Could it be? Here on the Missoula fields?”

When I saw him put his mitt on his right hand, I said, “Grady, I think that is a future Red Sox pitcher.”

Grady is now 12 years old, and he has started to learn playing professional baseball might not be quite as easy as he thought it would be when he was 7. Because of his asthma and other medical issues, he also lost almost all the strength in his legs last year.

So, Grady has been learning to run again. He is working hard, but he is not moving really fast.

About the time I figured that it was really Wu-Yelland working out about 100 yards away, we had moved from hitting to practicing running out doubles.

Once I told Grady I thought that guy was a future member of the Red Sox, and that he could see us too, he found an extra gear. His last two runs were faster than his first.

Then we headed to the truck for the drive home. First, though, we were going to see if my suspicious were correct.

Pulling up next to his car, I said “Washington plates.” When the player turned to see who was approaching Grady said, “Dad, he’s wearing a Red Sox hat.”

I hopped out of the truck and said, “You must be Jeremy.”

“Yes,” he said.

Then we told him how we were huge Red Sox fans and how Grady caught a ball from Raffy Devers last year in Seattle.

“That’s cool,” Wu-Yelland told Grady.

The next morning, we watched as Wu-Yelland took the mound at 3 Legends Stadium and threw about 35 pitches to Butte Miner Easton Lakkala, a soon-to-be junior at Butte Central.

The pitcher showed that the scouting reports of a 96-mph fastball were no exaggeration. He also showed great control and some serious bite on his slider.

I am no scout, but the kid looks like the real deal. He plans on making the Big Leagues and pitching for the Red Sox by 2023.

And to think that we met him on that Missoula Avenue Field in Butte.

If you would have told me a decade ago that someone I saw on that field would someday play for the Red Sox, I would have sworn that it would be Dougie Peoples.

— Bill Foley, who would have stayed in bed Sunday morning if it had been a Yankee prospect, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He is writing more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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