Cougs' Way to Philly a remarkable journey

WHEN WASHINGTON STATE pitcher Matt Way was selected by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the major league draft Wednesday, it marked yet another milestone in Way's remarkable progression in baseball.

Not only did Way grow up playing in the rain, snow and muck of Sitka, Alaska, but he wrestled at 112 pounds as a high school freshman.

"I grew a lot in high school," Way understated.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Way grew physically and mentally at Washington State. The determined southpaw admits he has a stubborn side, and he clashed repeatedly with WSU coaches before he matured on and off the mound and finally developed into a full-time starter in the second half of the 2008 season.

"I'm so proud of Matt and the changes he made," Cougar coach Donnie Marbut said. Marbut was pretty much right on the money by the way in picking where Way would go in the draft saying; "I think Matt will go in the first five rounds."

Way is set to become just the second Sitka native known to have played minor league baseball. Twelve players born in Alaska have played in the major leagues, but it is believed that Juneau's Chad Bentz -- who pitched in 40 games with Montreal and Florida in 2004-05 -- is the only Alaska high school product to reach the bigs.

Bentz, like Jim Abbott before him, pitched in the majors despite having a deformed right hand. Way has dealt with far lesser hardships, but the weather and playing conditions in Alaska certainly didn't make it easy for Way to stick with baseball.

"The fields up there -- you don't know how bad it is until you see it," Way said. "It gets dangerous. Sometimes, even today, I don't like taking ground balls because I got hit so many times."

Way, who was drafted by San Francisco in the 36th round last year, was taken 167th overall. Way is WSU's highest draft pick since Boston selected third baseman Stefan Bailie in the fourth round in 2001.

Johnson to the Tribe: WSU closer Jeremy Johnson, a redshirt junior, was selected in the 13th round (395th overall) by Cleveland. Johnson has graduated, and Marbut expects him to turn pro.

Cougars climbing: The good news for WSU football fans? Athlon Sports magazine ranks the Cougars much higher than The New York Times. The bad news? Athlon agrees with the Times that the Cougars will bring up the rear in the Pac-10 in 2009.

Athlon ranks WSU 88th among 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Times pegged WSU 114th.

Athlon ranks USC fourth nationally and first in the Pac-10. The Huskies are listed at No. 76 in the nation and No. 9 in the Pac-10.

Long days, nights: Next to starting a Husky booster club in Pullman, one the most daunting tasks in sports may be serving as the hitting coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alas, the man facing that challenge is former Cougar star Don Long.

Long, whose career batting average of .380 would rank second in WSU history to John Olerud's .434 mark if Long had more at bats (334 in 1982-83), joined the Pirates last year just in time to be part of Pittsburgh's 16th consecutive losing season. The Bucs are heavy "favorites" to set the major league record of 17 straight losing seasons.

The money-starved Pirates add to their own on-field misery, of course, by trying to save money and/or avoid losing top players to free agency by trading such talents as Boston Red Sox slugger Jason Bay. Last week, the Pirates dealt all-star center fielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta for three minor leaguers.

Adding to Long's pain -- literally and figuratively -- was the broken bat that struck him in the face during one of his first games in the bigs last year. Long, who was in the dugout at the time, still bears a scar and experiences some numbness.

Not that Long is complaining. After all, he spent 16 years riding buses in the minor leagues as a player, manager and coach, plus one season as Seattle University's head coach, before reaching Pittsburgh's version of the big time last year.

"He was the funniest guy you'll ever meet," said Bobo Brayton, who coached Long at WSU. "Anyone. Jack Benny, anybody."

Serving long (from home): Tennis is a struggling entity at the pro and collegiate levels in the United States. Foreigners dominate many college rosters, and WSU is no exception.

Six of the Cougars' seven players were foreigners this year, (WSU offers only women's tennis). At Washington, eight of 12 male players and six of 10 female players were foreigners.

It should be noted that WSU sports information director Bill Stevens played tennis for the Cougars, and he grew up in California.

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