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Originally published Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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QB Jake Locker fits on a diamond

The UW quarterback dusted off his baseball mitt for the Bellingham Bells.

Seattle Times staff reporter

BELLINGHAM — He hit, he caught, he ran.

Jake Locker even sang during his first live baseball game in more than two years.

It wasn't enough to help the Bellingham Bells, however, as the team lost its season opener 11-1 to the Everett Merchants.

Not that any of the 2,019 at Joe Martin Field really seemed to care about the final score.

Instead, one of the team's largest crowds in years appeared to be buffeted greatly by the presence of Locker, the University of Washington's starting quarterback and Whatcom County legend due to his storied career at Ferndale High.

"It's this big for one reason," said longtime Bells fan Bobby Brazzel, staring at a pregame line of ticket buyers that snaked onto a nearby sidewalk. "Jake Locker."

Locker didn't disappoint in his debut for the Bells, a member of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, a wood bat summer league.

He went just 1 for 3 with two strikeouts, but he also rocketed a double over the center fielder's head in the fourth inning for Bellingham's first hit of the game.

"He's just a special, special athlete," said Bellingham coach Brandon Newell, a former baseball player at UW. "I don't know any other person who could have taken two years off and run into an 88-mile fastball and hit it like that."

Newell didn't even seem to mind that Locker missed his stop sign at second and was thrown out at third on the play despite a headfirst slide that surely would have drawn an anxious look from Huskies football coach Tyrone Willingham.

"That was stupid," said Locker, who batted second and played center field. "I came around second and forgot I had to look at the third-base coach and I had already gone halfway and I was like, 'Man, he's giving me the stop sign.' That was terrible, terrible baserunning."

Locker quickly made amends, however, when he and cousin Brady grabbed a microphone after the fifth inning and serenaded grandmother Barbara, who turned 73, with "Happy Birthday."

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"Maybe American Idol will pick me up or something, I don't know," Locker said with a laugh afterward.

It was that kind of feel-good night for Locker, who said despite the loss that he "really enjoyed it," which seemed to validate everything he has said about playing baseball — that it is just a fun way to pass the summer and not something he plans to pursue permanently.

He was considered a possible first-round pick out of high school before opting for UW and football.

"I'm not looking at it like that," he said when asked if playing baseball would keep his future options open. "I just missed playing the game a little bit, and I got an opportunity to do that this summer, so I'm going to take advantage of it."

He was cheered heartily before the game, and again when he walked on eight pitches in the first inning. He doubled in the fourth, but struck out swinging in the sixth and eighth.

"I felt like I was taking good swings," he said. "I just wasn't making contact with the ball."

He also handled all his defensive plays flawlessly, including catching three fly balls in the sixth. He had worried before the game that catching flies was the part of the game at which he was most rusty.

On his first catch in the sixth, he thought he had dropped the ball and spun around before realizing it was in his glove.

"He didn't really miss a beat," Newell said of Locker, who hadn't played a live game since the spring of 2006 when he was a senior at Ferndale.

The game capped a busy day for Locker, who had to complete three final exams at UW on Friday before he was eligible to play.

League rules require players to be done with school work, and Locker was able to have two of his tests moved up so he could play this weekend.

Locker said he finished tests in fossils, geography of cities and introduction to the New Testament, completing the last one around 1:45 p.m., then making the drive north.

Locker says he will make plans week-to-week on how many games he will play, working it around any football responsibilities, such as throwing passes to receivers in offseason workouts.

"Football is still my first priority, and any time I have anything to do with that I'm going to be there for it," he said.

Newell, however, said he thinks Locker may be able to make 35 or so of the team's 52 games, including all weekend home games, and possibly a few of the closer road trips.

The WCCBL has eight teams, including four in the state of Washington. The Bells are in their first year under ownership from Brett Sports, whose owners include Hall of Famer George Brett and which plans to run it similarly to a minor-league franchise.

WCCBL president Ken Wilson, who was an announcer for the Mariners from 1977 to 1982, said Locker's presence is a "tremendous" boost for the league. "It will certainly draw a lot of attention."

Judging by Friday, it already has.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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