Whalen brothers of Vancouver pursue big-league dreams

Trio follow footsteps of their father, now a scout

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

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The oldest is chasing his major league dream in Wisconsin.

In West Virginia, the middle brother also has his sights on “the show.”

And the youngest? His big-league pursuit has led him to Tennessee.

Their baseball paths have diverged, but they lead back to the same place.

In the backyard of the Whalen family’s Vancouver home, Caleb, Seaver and Brady used to try and dominate each other at Wiffle ball.

“Growing up, it was almost comical how competitive we were,” Brady Whalen said.

Backyard adversaries in adolescence, but always allies, the Whalen brothers continue to support and motivate each other as they adjust to life in minor league baseball.

They might share a motivational slogan or piece of scripture in their near-daily texts. Sometimes it’s a video clip of a major league hitter offering a tip.

Those texts ping across the nation. They might ring in Appleton, Wis., where Caleb, 24, is an outfielder with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Class-A affiliate.

They might ring in Princeton, W.Va., where Seaver, 22, is making his minor league debut as an infielder with the Tampa Bay Rays’ rookie-league club.

Or they might ring in Johnson City, Tenn., where Brady, 19, is in his second year as an infielder in the St. Louis Cardinals system.

None of the Whalen brothers knows where their baseball odyssey will take them.

But all three are certain of one thing — they aren’t making that journey alone.

Baseball genes

Long before Little League, the foundation for the Whalen brothers’ baseball upbringing was planted on the Vancouver ballfield now known as Propstra Stadium.

That’s where, in the 1980s, a teenage Shawn Whalen used to hone on his craft with Teddy Davis, who worked for the city’s parks and recreation department.

One day, Los Angeles Dodgers scout Hank Jones drove by the ballpark and noticed the young man trying to become a better ballplayer.

“Hank, because I was working, had a soft spot in his heart and said ‘hey, we’ve got to help this kid,’ ” Whalen said.

After playing for the College of Southern Idaho, Whalen was drafted in the 15th round by the San Diego Padres in 1989. He spent the next few years bouncing around the lower levels of the Padres’ system. In the offseason, he worked odd jobs such as operating a fork lift or working at a car wash.

Shawn Whalen’s playing days ended in 1992, but his career in baseball was far from over. Working under Jones, Whalen launched a career as a scout. He now works as an area scout for the Milwaukee Brewers.

‘Ballpark rats’

Whalen’s sons took after their father at a young age.

“They’ve always been ballpark rats,” Shawn Whalen said. “That’s what we call them, those little kids you see at almost every ballpark in America. Their faces are dirty and they’re running around chasing foul balls. They just love being at the ballpark. That’s how they were. That’s how I was.”

Shawn Whalen was always adamant that if his boys pursued baseball, it would be on their own terms.

“I’m just so happy knowing it was their passion, not mine,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest thing I tell parents. I remind them that we’re here to encourage their dream, not have them live out our dream.”

Union High School baseball coach Ben McGrew coached Brady Whalen at Union and his two brothers with the summer club Vancouver Cardinals. Taking baseball as far as they could was always the Whalens’ goal.

“They were very focused with what they wanted to do,” McGrew said. “They’re so different, each of them, with their mentality and how they go about things. But they were always super-focused on that as the end goal.”

Different paths

All three Whalens starred at Union. Their baseball experiences after that, however, could not have been more different.

Caleb, who graduated in 2011, signed with the University of Portland. He would spend the next five years as a Pilot, taking a redshirt year after playing just 12 games in 2015.

After batting .304 in 2016, Whalen was drafted in the 38th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. His father had the honor of offering him his first pro contract.

Five years in college, which included working toward a master’s degree in education, has given Caleb plenty of life experience as he headed into the tumultuous world of minor league baseball.

“The biggest thing is learning how to take care of yourself,” Caleb Whalen said. “The road trips, eating the right meals, getting enough sleep.”

Last summer, Caleb Whalen played 47 games for Helena, Mont., in the rookie-level Pioneer League. This spring, he was assigned to the long-season Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

In that same 2016 draft, Brady Whalen also realized his pro dream.

But there would be no college for the youngest brother. Drafted in the 12th round by the St. Louis Cardinals, the 6-foot-4, switch-hitting shortstop signed for $475,000.

“I owe my older brothers all of my success,” Brady Whalen said. “Even though I was the youngest, they never let me win. It was frustrating, but when I got to play against guys my own age, I was better. I had that competitive mentality.”

Five years older than Brady, Caleb Whalen is quick to offer advice that goes beyond the batting cage.

“Find a routine,” Caleb remembers telling Brady. “Surround yourself with guys that are just like you and who push each other to be better, just like we all did growing up.”

Seaver Whalen had the most circuitous route to professional baseball, playing for four colleges over four years.

He signed with Santa Clara, but only played nine games his freshman year. He transferred to Lower Columbia College in Longview, where he was the Northwest Athletic Conference player of the year in leading the Red Devils to the NWAC title.

That led to a scholarship with Loyola Marymount, where Whalen hit .279 as a junior.

But it wasn’t the right fit, so Whalen transferred to Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. There, he hit .326 with 13 home runs, 53 RBI and led the Warriors to a third consecutive NAIA national title.

Last month, Whalen was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 32nd round.

“I put my career in God’s hands,” Seaver Whalen said. “He wanted me to keep playing ball. There’s some relief, but it’s mostly excitement to start this new journey.”

Shawn Whalen recalled being very emotional when two sons were drafted in 2016. Seaver’s selection was just as poignant for his father.

“This guy wanted it so bad,” Shawn Whalen said. “When it happened, I was just so happy for him because I know how much he wants to get out and play. He’s a survivor.”

Seaver Whalen believes the adversity of his college career will benefit him in the minor leagues, where players are often shuffled among different teams within a farm system.

“I’ve had to develop new relationships every year,” Seaver Whalen said. “I had to develop people skills where you relate to a lot of different guys. In professional baseball, I have to be able to mesh with the guys wherever I go.”

‘Just like old times’

From the earliest practices to long summer tournaments, family support has always been a bedrock of the Whalens’ baseball careers.

Even after Shawn and Lisa Whalen divorced, the family network remained steadfast behind the boys. Along with the boys’ grandparents, Lisa and her husband, Larry Osbourne, are planning an August road trip.

The destination? Johnson City, Tenn., where Brady Whalen’s Cardinals will face Seaver Whalen’s Princeton Rays on Aug. 3-5.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Brady Whalen said. “It’s going to feel like we’re kids all over again. I’m going to be trying to dominate him, just like old times.”

Not so fast, Seaver Whalen said.

“It’s going to be exciting to watch him play,” he said. “But hopefully I’ll hit a ball out. When I get to third base, maybe I’ll say something to him.”