BOISE — It was a sight former Major League pitcher Pat House wasn’t sure he’d ever see again.
House, the first All-American in Boise State baseball history, stood and watched as a team in blue and orange uniforms practiced and scrimmaged inside Memorial Stadium.
The Broncos continued their ‘World Series’ Tuesday with a six-inning intrasquad game, the latest milestone as they inch closer to a return to the diamond for the first time in 40 years.
“It should have never left, but it’s great to see it come back,” said House, who played for then-Boise Junior College during the 1959 and 1960 seasons before making it to the big leagues with the Houston Astros.
“It’s kind of surreal. I like the uniforms. They look like a fine bunch of young men and they will do the program proud. It’s just a pleasant sight to see Boise State ball players out on the diamond. It’s exciting.”
House spoke to the team before Tuesday’s practice, telling them how excited he was to see the Broncos finally back on the baseball field.
Boise State announced in April 2018 that they were ending the wrestling program and restarting a baseball program that last played a game 1980. Coach Gary Van Tol, a former minor league coach with the Chicago Cubs, brought in 12 players last year for a ‘zero year’ before adding 20 more players in the 2019 signing class.
The full group of 32 players practiced officially for the first time on Saturday after they moved into their temporary home at Memorial Stadium following the end of the Boise Hawks season. The Broncos are scrimmaging three times a week before playing two games against NNU and Montana State-Billings on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5.
“It took 21 months to be able to put on a uniform and for it to finally be here is pretty special,” Van Tol said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. To walk into the clubhouse, I had to just sit down and take it all in. It was a pretty special moment for me.”
The Broncos will play the 2020 season at Memorial Stadium with the hope of having an on-campus stadium ready for the 2021 season. There are no Boise State banners or signs anywhere in the stadium as of yet. The colors remain the same as for the Colorado Rockies’ affiliate, and even the door to the clubhouse still says Boise Hawks.
Some of that will change by the home opener in late February, but for now the Broncos are just happy to have a place to call home. They had no locker room or field last year and had to practice at a high school field at nearby Fort Boise Park.
They now have a field, a clubhouse and even matching gear. After piecing together workout gear last year, the full group now has batting practice jerseys, hats, cleats and blue and orange equipment such as catchers gear and batting helmets.
“We definitely feel like a real ball club now,” outfielder Michael Hicks said. “It’s a lot more real. Having everybody here and seeing it all come together has been really cool, and now having a field, this is amazing compared to where we were.”
The 6-foot-7 Hicks is expected to be the big bopper in the middle of Van Tol’s lineup come February. The Coeur d’Alene native was one of 12 players to redshirt last year for the Broncos after transferring from the University of Portland. He hit .320 over the summer for the Ridgefield Raptors in the West Coast League and had 12 doubles, nine home runs and a league-leading 50 RBI.
The starting outfield could feature three that graduated from Idaho high schools. Hicks figures to start in left, while Timberline graduate Geonhyoung Kim is likely to start in center after also transferring from Portland. Eagle graduate Christian Padilla, a transfer from Spokane Falls Community College, is the favorite to start in right field.
Freshman Torin Montgomery could see time at first, third and in the outfield. The Kirkland, Washington, native was drafted by the Miami Marlins in June and turned down a lucrative offer to skip the start of his pro career and join Boise State’s program.
On the mound the Broncos expect a lot from Oregon State transfer Jordan Britton, a lefty from Caldwell High that was part of the Beavers’ national championship team in 2018. Left-hander Dawson Day, a transfer from Mount Hood Community College, and right-hander Daniel Ferrario, a transfer from Linn-Benton CC, could be key parts of the pitching staff.
“I think we have some good players here,” Van Tol said. “They are our kind of guys and that’s the most important thing. We wanted to build a culture here with that blue collar mentality, and all these guys had other opportunities. They all have a story and a journey. Some were passed over, some are coming off injuries and fell out of grace where they were at. But we have 32 guys that wanted to be Broncos, and we can’t wait to compete against somebody else and find out who we are.”
The Broncos will practice nearly every day during the NCAA-allotted 45 day period that runs from now until mid-October. Van Tol said this time is “critical” because “the season is going to be here before we know it.”
Boise State’s fall scrimmages are free and open to the public. They will be back inside Memorial Stadium Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and have seven more scheduled for later this month.
“It’s been great,” Britton said. “The first couple scrimmages have been great. We’ve seen some really good plays and some good pitching performances. We’re just excited to keep progressing and get the season started.”
Boise State’s home opener is scheduled for Feb. 28 against Northern Colorado, but the full schedule has yet to be released. They likely will open up the season on the road a few days before hosting Northern Colorado.
“Ready or not, the Broncos are here,” Van Tol said.