By Tyler Urke in Sports
The Penguin baseball team is heading to the playoffs for the first time since its rebirth at Clark four years ago.
Sophomore outfielder Michael Gonzales is hitting .302, has scored 22 times, driven in 21 runs, and has 12 steals. With numbers like that, Gonzales’ name regularly tops the box score.
But there’s another name you’ll probably never see in the box score.
That’s Tavis Muller.
Before the start of the season, assistant coach Rip Ramsey got a phone call from a friend who works as a life skills teacher at Columbia River High School, where Tavis, 18, is a junior.
“He said, ‘This kid really wants to be involved in sports and he really loves baseball,’” Ramsey recalled.
Tavis has a learning disability that makes it difficult for him to read and write. His mom, Katie Muller, graduated from Clark’s nursing program last year and admits that life wasn’t always easy for them, but being on the team has made a big impact on him.
As Clark’s batboy, Tavis gets the batting practice equipment and baseballs out before games and helps retrieve bats and foul balls during games.
“He enjoys it a lot, you can just tell,” Gonzales said.
And Tavis has made an impact on the players too.
“We love having him out here,” said sophomore infielder Jordan Swofford. “He gives us a little bit of life. He’s a funny kid. It’s hard not to smile with Tavis around.”
During a game against Mt. Hood, Tavis caught freshman outfielder Justin Juarez off guard in the dugout by pretending to toss a ball towards Juarez, causing him to flinch.
Tavis isn’t the only one dishing it out, but when it comes to playful confrontation, he might have the upper hand.
“When he jabs you man, he gives you dead-arms for days,” Gonzales said with a laugh.
Tavis’ real value isn’t setting up equipment however.
He said the players welcomed him and made him “feel wanted” right away. He believes that being positive increases the team’s chances of winning.
“I would tell them if they made a mistake or a bad play ‘Don’t put yourself down, keep yourself up. Put that play behind your back and get ‘em the next play,’” Tavis said.
“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and gets us pumped up even when we’re down,” Gonzales said.
“The guys really like him,” Ramsey said. “He has like six or seven different nicknames the kids have given him, and they enjoy when he’s here because of the atmosphere.”
Players say that having Tavis on the team is humbling. Sophomore infielder Bryce Beavers said, “It gave us all insight into what we have and he doesn’t.”
“For anyone on the team, baseball is a big part of our lives,” said redshirt freshman Tait Hoodenpyl. “But there is so much more to life than baseball.”
Steve Melonas is Tavis’ life skills teacher at Columbia River High School where he has worked for 13 years. Students in his class range from 14 to 21 years old, the maximum age life skills students are allowed to be in high school.
Melonas said his favorite part of being a life skills teacher is the relationships he builds with the kids.
As a life skills teacher, Melonas prepares students for life after high school. “I try to let them know that there are no boundaries and that they can definitely do whatever they want to do if they put their minds to it,” Melonas said. (cq)
Melonas said when he called Ramsey, Ramsey didn’t even hesitate to introduce Tavis to the team.
Muller said her son has always enjoyed watching and playing sports. He volunteered as an umpire for Hazel Dell Little League for the past three years.
She said she hopes that he will be able to continue helping teams in the future. “Our goal for him is to hopefully find some sort of professional team that he can help.”
Melonas just sped up the process.
“Tavis is adamant that he wants to work with a professional ball team in some capacity,” Melonas said. “What I tried to do was find him something to do now that would get him going in that direction.”
“It’s a struggle for him and this is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Muller said.
According to Melonas and Muller, Tavis regularly talks about how much he enjoys his job. Melonas said Tavis texted him after Clark’s last home game saying how excited he was that the team had given him a signed baseball that he was going to bring to school to show the other kids.
Reporter Brody Voge contributed to this story.