Off Beat: Teacher hits books to make first pitch

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Mark Ray is all about access to knowledge and flow of information.

His expertise helped him become Washington’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, which provided a chance to meet President Barack Obama. Ray was among 53 finalists for national Teacher of the Year honors who visited the White House last week.

The Skyview High School librarian isn’t just a provider of those information services. He’s a consumer. And that helped Ray when he was invited to another high-profile location: Safeco Field’s pitching mound.

The state’s Teacher of the Year award includes an invitation to throw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game. Ray, who also is the Skyview tennis coach, had his opportunity on April 14. Ray said he relied on a lot of people who shared their expertise with him. It started when childhood friend Bryan Beauchamp taught him how to play baseball, basketball and football.

More recently, Jack Young -- a friend who’d been a college pitcher -- provided some tips, as well as the baseball glove Ray wore on the mound.

Skyview baseball coach Eric Estes worked with him and Carl Click, a broadcaster who also coaches in the area, helped Ray get his arm ready.

A long way from home

The distance between the pitching rubber and home plate at Skyview is 60 feet, 6 inches -- just like Safeco Field. But there sure can be a difference between baseball diamonds, Ray learned, particularly when 21,000 people are watching you.

“The best analogy is the first ‘Star Wars’ movie,” Ray said by phone from Washington D.C. after Thursday’s reception at the Department of Education.

“The rebels have to shoot a torpedo down a tiny hole to blow up the Death Star. That’s how it felt” as he took aim at the catcher’s mitt, Ray said.

His pitch was a little low, Ray said, but he didn’t bounce it in the dirt.

“It didn’t roll up,” Ray said. “It would have been a ball, but it was across the plate.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story