Arcata

The day a former Big 5 pitcher faced Barry Bonds

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Submitted photo – Former Arcata High, Humboldt Crabs and Humboldt Eagles pitcher Gary Wilson faced Barry Bonds while pitching for the Pittsburg Pirates at Candlestick Park in 1995.

By Ray Hamill — Gary Wilson has experienced a lot of baseball since the day he was cut from the Arcata High team as a freshman.

And he has a lot of good memories from his many years involved with the game, memories he’s still happily building.

These days Wilson is a head scout for the Kansas City Royals and adapting to a whole new routine for him and the rest of the sports world in 2020.

“It’s been different,” he said. “This has greatly affected everything.”

Normally the 20-year MLB scout, who is based out of Sacramento, would be busy traveling all over the West Coast for months leading up to June’s MLB Draft, trying to uncover the next great prospect. But this year he’s limited to watching game film and a lot of zoom meetings.

Despite the setbacks, however, Wilson loves his job and says he doesn’t really see it as work.

“It is a fun job” he said. “I think I always wanted to be a professional baseball player, and I didn’t think I’d end up in this.”

After his playing days ended in the late 90s, Wilson had a very brief stint in coaching before joining the Colorado Rockies scouting staff, where he worked for 15 years.

Five years ago, the Royals brought him on board, and Wilson says he is grateful for his time with two great organizations.

“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I’ve been with two organizations that really take care of their personnel.”

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Submitted photo – Wilson when he was inducted into the Arcata Hall of Fame.

Facing Bonds

Before he became a long-time pro scout, Wilson faced a different challenge during his time with the Pittsburg Pirates, who drafted him in the 18th round back in 1992.

He played seven years in the Minors, getting a two-month call up to the Majors in the summer of 1995, where he had one appearance in particular that stands out, when he faced off against the legendary Barry Bonds at Candlestick Park.

Bonds managed to single off the former Arcata Tiger, but he had to battle for it, and while Wilson says he wasn’t happy about the outcome, he at least kept him in the ball park.

“That was definitely a thrill for me and my family,” he said of the appearance. “That was the team I grew up watching.”

It was also one of the few times his family got to see him as a professional after he spent so many years playing minor ball on the East Coast.

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Submitted photo – Wilson, right, along with his wife KC and the legendary George Brett.

Great memories

For Wilson, it all began at Arcata High, under the tutelage of former head coach Dennis Pontoni.

He quickly put his freshman disappointment behind him and played a big role in his years with the Tigers, while the team played a major role in helping develop Wilson as a player.

“When we had practice it was very intense and very much run like a college program,” said Wilson, who played on the team with current Tigers head coach Troy Ghisetti. “I have great memories form those days.”

Wilson went on to play at Sac State, while also appearing one summer for the Humboldt Crabs, before taking his game to Alaska for the summer leagues, which were a big deal back in those days.

He played with Jason Giambi in Alaska.

“I was looking for that next level, to hopefully make it,” he said.

Wilson also played three summers with the Humboldt Eagles American Legion program during his high school days, another team he says that helped prepare him for a lifelong career in the game.

“It was outstanding preparation,” he said. “It was an honor to make that Eagles team. It was like an all-star team and they always had a good coach.

“I miss that. It was a very good team.”

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Submitted photo – Gary Wilson, far left back row, as a Babe Ruth All-Star, along with coach Dennis Pontoni, far right.

Changing landscape

Wilson admits the landscape of the game has changed dramatically since then, although fundamentally some things will never change with baseball.

“It’s still the same game, but guys have gotten bigger and stronger, and they’re throwing harder at lower levels,” he said. “But there are more injuries with that.”

The players these days also put more of a premium on immediate gratification.

“There’s just such an emphasis on results and being able to put yourself on Twitter,” he said. “When I was coming up, it was more about, ‘let’s win this baseball game.’

“It’s a lot less natural, but the play has probably elevated. I don’t know if it’s better, but it’s certainly advanced with technology.”

As for scouting, Wilson likes the challenge and has recruited a number of players to the pro ranks, including the likes of Chris Bubic, Dom Nunez and Ryan Matheus.

“You’re always trying to find that big one, to hit that home run,” he said. “A lot of it is the physical tools, but the mental makeup, what’s inside his heart, that means a lot.”

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