Hometown Heroes

Oct. 9, 2001

By Mike Kreiger

Question: Who is this former Washington State Athlete?

He was raised in Washington and attended Washington State University. He is 6-foot-5, 220. He pitched for the Cougars and won 26 games as an ace on the WSU staff. He earned All-America honors in Pullman before being drafted by the Major Leagues. He has been selected to the Major League All-Star game twice. After playing for two teams, he signed with the Mariners as a free agent and has helped Seattle play its best baseball in club history.

Answer: John Olerud and Aaron Sele.

Although the similarities between this Cougar duo are numerous, both players are looking to add one more connection to the list: a 2001 World Series ring.

With the Major League Baseball playoffs just around the corner, baseball fans around the nation will watch the Seattle Mariners, with the help of these two former Cougar standouts, make their run at a first-ever World Series title.

Olerud, who signed with Seattle in December 1999, and Sele, who signed with the club a month later, have been two of the many bright spots for the record-setting Mariners. Both have put up impressive stats this season as Seattle has amazed the baseball world with victory after victory.

'It's definitely a good feeling to be part of a winning team,' said the 33-year old Olerud. 'The fact that it's in my hometown, where I've got a lot of friends and family, makes it that much sweeter.'

What made it even sweeter for Olerud was his selection by the fans to start in the 2001 All-Star Game at Seattle.

'It was a great feeling,' Olerud said of his All-Star selection. 'There are so many great first basemen, and it was really an honor, especially since it was here in Seattle.'

The Mariners did not get this far without the help of Olerud, Seattle's starting first baseman, and Sele, a pitcher in the Mariners' dominating rotation.

As of Sept.19, Olerud, who many consider to have one of the sweetest swings in baseball, has a .301 average with 17 homers and 82 RBI. Sele, the WSU career strikeout leader with 278, is equipped with one of the best overhand curveballs in baseball. He won his first eight starts this season to jumpstart the Seattle pitching staff. Sele has a 13-5 record with a 3.71 ERA and has enjoyed every little bit of the Mariners' amazing run at history.

'It just feels like we're having fun,' said Sele, 31. 'Guys are showing up early to get their extra hitting in. They're making sure they get their workouts in to stay strong. Nobody's looking down the road.'

Olerud, who won the 1993 American League batting title with a .363 average, was the starting first baseman 1992 and 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays. Sele became the first Mariners right-handed pitcher to make the All-Star team when he was selected to the squad last season. Both former Cougars moved closer to home to be with their families and friends, as well as play for a contender.

Speaking of kin, the Olerud family holds a place in Cougar baseball history. John Olerud Sr. was an All-America First Team catcher for the Cougars in 1965. Junior Olerud was also an All-America First Team member as a pitcher, designated hitter and utility player in 1988, the same year he was selected the Baseball America NCAA Player of the Year.

Olerud and Sele were teammates at Washington State in 1989, but the two didn't just play their college ball here in the Evergreen State. Olerud grew up in Seattle and attended Interlake High School. Sele grew up in Poulsbo, Wash., and pitched North Kitsap High School into the Class AA state finals in 1988.

The Mariners, on pace to win an American League record 116 games, do not need to look down the road because they clinched the AL West title Sept. 19. The M's were the first ballclub to insure themselves of a playoff spot and they have earned home-field advantage in the first two rounds. As of Sept. 19, Seattle was playing with a .724 winning percentage and has already won over 100 games for the first time in franchise history.

After returning to their home state, both players recall their days as college students in Pullman with fondness.

'I miss fall in Pullman,' Sele said. 'When you're just getting back to campus and it's nice and warm. It was great coming back to Pullman and seeing everybody.'

'I would either be playing baseball, getting homework done or watching television and procrastinating,' Olerud said with a laugh. 'I miss the team camaraderie. We were a tight-knit group and it was a great bunch of guys.'

Olerud came to Washington State for its baseball tradition.

'Washington State was one of the top teams in the nation, and that's where I wanted to be,' Olerud said.

Sele, like Olerud, became a Cougar because of the top level of competition.

'The Cougar baseball program is based on a lot of success,' Sele said. 'It was one of the top programs on the West Coast.'

Sele was sure Olerud was going to be a professional player from the first day he met the slugging WSU first baseman/pitcher/utility player.

'He was phenomenal,' said Sele, a First Team All-American pitcher in 1990. 'I knew he was going to be in the big leagues a long time because he was the best college player that I've ever seen.'

Olerud thought Sele had the tools to play in the Majors as well.

'He always threw strikes and made a lot of good pitches,' Olerud said. 'It's great to get to play with Aaron again.'

Sele now helps Washington State students through the Aaron Sele Scholarship in hopes to help provide others the opportunity to have a chance at the college experience he so thoroughly enjoyed.

'It's a chance to give back to the program that got me to this level,' Sele said. 'Washington State allowed me to develop as person and an athlete, and hopefully this will help somebody down the road.'

The destination on the road the Mariners are currently traveling is what they hope to be a World Series title. If and when the Mariners make it to the Fall Classic, the entire Palouse will look on with pride because two of its own will have won a coveted World Series ring in their own backyard.

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