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Hunter Wells continuing

Hunter Wells grew up throwing baseballs against a wall. For him, the wall represented an array of major league players who fell prey to whatever pitch he threw.

The second-generation West Valley Eagle has grown a bit beyond throwing baseballs against brick wall, and he’s a long way away from throwing them against major leaguers. But he’s getting closer.

Wells was selected in the 23rd round by the Miami Marlins in last month’s amateur draft after a solid junior season pitching for Gonzaga.

It’s not a surprise to see Wells head off to play professional baseball – his roots were firmly planted in the game from the time he was old enough to hold a bat.

Problem was, that time lasted a long time.

Wells was barely big enough to swing a bat when he arrived at West Valley. If you’re generous, you’d guess his weight at somewhere around 85 pounds and wouldn’t be more than 5 pounds off.

But no matter how tall or how much he weighed, Wells knew how to use a glove.

He was the Eagles’ shortstop for four years. Over those four years he grew about 15 inches and gained about 80 pounds of muscle. By the time he was a senior, he was also the Eagles’ lights-out starter as the team reached the state Class 2A quarterfinals.

Watching him pitch brought back memories.

Wells’ mother, the former Peggy Almquist, was a standout softball player at West Valley and later coached volleyball for the Eagles.

She told me during Wells’ junior season that he reminded the family so much of his uncle, Mike Almquist, who had a stellar career at West Valley as a pitcher.

Peggy Wells said her mother would come out to watch her grandson pitch and marvel at how much he looked like Mike when he took the mound.

I saw a lot of Mike Almquist during his Eagles career. He was two years behind me at West Valley. And during his junior high career, his catcher was usually my brother, Bob.

“He threw hard,” he told me. “As he got older, his control got better. When he was young he just threw hard and was all over the board.”

Things changed once they got to high school. For starters, my brother moved to third base, where he got a different perspective on Almquist as a pitcher.

“Let’s just say I was glad I was on his side and I didn’t have to hit against him,” he said.

As an Eagle, Almquist found a teacher who knew how to tame the wildness and harness that talented right arm.

“When he got to high school and got under the tutelage of Jack Spring, he got to be a pitcher,” Bob explained. “He started thinking about sequences of pitches.”

The legendary West Valley baseball coach who passed away last year, after whom the school’s baseball field is named, is probably the finest left-handed pitcher to come out of Spokane.

“Jack always believed there was no better pitch than a well-placed fastball,” my brother said. “He liked to work fast and he didn’t like to mess around.

“He got Mike’s fastball under control and taught him how to work quickly. He’d get the ball and throw it.”

Almquist always had a high leg kick when pitching from the windup. He threw a good overhand curveball and could change speeds. But he rarely did.

Mike Almquist never had the chance to play professional baseball. Instead, he joined the Marine Corps out of high school. After returning to Spokane, he died in 2002 at age 43.

One of the most memorable features of Almquist, aside from the fastball, was the grin on his face.

You have to believe that, wherever he is, he’s wearing that big, silly grin while keeping a close eye on his nephew.