Thursday, March 30, 2023
March 30, 2023

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Ridgefield Raptors ‘old guy’ Isaac Lovings is catching on

Lovings, in third season at Ridgefield, is helping teammates with his experience

By , Columbian staff writer

RIDGEFIELD — In the brief history of the Ridgefield Raptors, there are just two players who can boast being part of the team’s beginning in 2019 while still playing for Ridgefield three years later.

One is Eli Shubert, a relief pitcher from Lewis-Clark State, and the other, Isaac Lovings, a catcher from Pacific University, who has also stuck around for a third season with the Raptors.

Sometimes, the 22-year-old Lovings forgets he’s one of the oldest players on a team largely made up of college freshmen and sophomores.

A conversation before the season with his dad and longtime baseball coach, Kevin Lovings, served as a reminder of his unique perspective he lends to the team.

“He was like, ‘You’re the old guy now,’ ” Lovings said. “ ‘You’re 22, almost 23 (and) these guys are 19, maybe just barely 20.’ For me, it’s more of just, sit back, take in the game a little bit and also pass on some knowledge on to these guys and just telling them, ‘It doesn’t all have to happen right now. You’ll have ebbs and flows; just accept it on the front end.’ ”

Lovings is living proof of that wisdom he shares with teammates.

He dealt with an unexpected move midway through college from Portland’s Concordia University to Pacific in Forest Grove, Ore. He spent two summers, 2019 and 2021, playing for the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League in Reno, Nev., then moonlighted with the Raptors late in each of those seasons.

Ahead of this season, he got an offer from the Raptors to play out a full season in the West Coast League, allowing him to further refine his own skills behind the plate while helping fellow catchers and pitchers.

“Isaac, he’s a quiet leader, he’s a hard worker, he’s not truly a ‘rah-rah’ guy,” Kevin Lovings said. “I said (to him), ‘You’ve kind of been put in this position where you can come out of your shell and work on your leadership.’ So I think from that perspective, he’s really kind of adapted to the fact that he is an older guy, he’s there to work with and nurture some of these younger guys, especially the freshmen or sophomores that are struggling, the first time playing in the league. He’s been there.”

Coming out of Sunset High School in Beaverton, Ore., Lovings chose baseball over football and went to Concordia, the now defunct Division II university.

He was a sophomore in February 2020 when he woke up to a text message calling for a team meeting. They learned the school would be closing at the end of the spring semester, leaving Lovings and thousands of fellow students to scramble.

“I was kind of freaking out for a good hour and a half about where I was going to play,” he said.

But as his dad told him, when one door closes, another opens. The next day, Lovings received a call from Brian Billings, the head baseball coach at Pacific with an offer of a roster spot and guaranteed playing time.

The move made a lot of sense. Not only was the D-III school close to home, it was also a place Lovings grew up around while his dad was on the Boxers’ coaching staff between 2003 and 2014. In fact, Lovings already knew two current Pacific assistant coaches, Aaron Svarthumle and Kyle Treadway, both of whom played at Pacific during his childhood. Lovings even caught for Treadway, a pitcher, when he took up the position at age 13.

“Pacific has always been home … being their bat boy, hanging out at practices, it was always kind of home for him,” Kevin Lovings said. “It was an easy transition. It was good to see. I’m a Boxer through and through.

“It was just really meant to be.”

Catching on

In the spring 2022 campaign, Lovings had his finest season to date, earning All-West Region honors after hitting .311 with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and 39 RBI, while playing all 45 games, starting 44 of them.

Yet while Kevin Lovings watched his oldest son grow up, he wasn’t sure if Isaac’s future was in college baseball. For one, Isaac was “a monster” on the football field and had a passion for it.

Also, while watching Isaac play baseball at different positions, the game appeared to be too slow for him, Kevin said. That prompted dad, a catcher in his playing days, to suggest Isaac catch for his younger brother, Nathan.

Kevin asked Isaac to give catching a chance for a year, knowing he was somewhat duping his son into it.

At first, Isaac didn’t like it. But then?

“He just took off with it,” Kevin Lovings said.

Now, when Isaac returns home to talk baseball after a Raptors game, Kevin has noticed a massive jump in how he talks and thinks about the game. It goes back to those early years growing up around Pacific, and has now come full-circle playing in the program.

“His baseball IQ for his age, and where he was from 18 to now, is by far higher than mine ever was,” Kevin Lovings said. “He just has a really good baseball IQ. I’m just still amazed at some of the conversations we have. … He has a pretty good concept on how to call a game. It’s neat to watch him work with younger guys as far as technique stuff. He has an ability to kind of give back and his IQ is pretty good.”

This year’s Raptors squad has somewhat of a logjam at catcher between Lovings, Jacob Sharp (UNLV), who’s leading the WCL in home runs, and Riley McCarthy, also a two-sport standout at Mountain View High School who now plays at University of Portland.

In a given three-game series, all typically start at least one game behind the plate, with the possibility of additional appearances elsewhere in the starting lineup, or as a pinch hitter.

The off days are just as important, though, particularly as a catcher helping warm up pitchers in the bullpen, or between innings to give the starter a break.

For Lovings, it’s all part of knowing your role.

“I’m the older guy in the catching group, so I’ve caught my fair share, I’ve had my fair share of success and at this point, it’s just about passing some things I’ve learned on to these guys, taking that leadership role on again,” Lovings said. “And then when I do get my time to go play, make the most out of it.”

In 20 games with the Raptors, he’s hitting .228 with three doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI. In 102 innings played, he’s also the only catcher on the team with a perfect fielding percentage.

“Ike’s kind of the elder statesman of the catching staff,” McCarthy said. “He’s super composed, just goes about his business. He’s a great player, and he’s a great role model on and off the field, just in terms of how to carry yourself, how to go about your business.”

After this summer, with nine credits still to complete at Pacific before graduating, Lovings will get one more season with the Boxers, and another chance to showcase himself, if an opportunity to play beyond college presents itself.

Kevin Lovings often talks to his son about “growing into the game” and embracing the process that comes with it.

It’s a similar message Isaac Lovings passes on to his teammates, and it means something coming from the old guy who speaks from experience.

“If you do something at the right time and somebody is watching, you may get an opportunity to play at a higher level, who knows. But for right now, work on what you need to work on. That’s kind of been our staple statement,” Kevin Lovings said.

“Oftentimes as coaches you talk about, most people don’t see the work; they see the potential in somebody but they don’t see the long term. I’m all about the long term, whether I’m coaching high school guys or Isaac — it’s all about where we need to go. If you trust the process, which he did, he’s had success and hopefully he continues to build on that and have success in the game.”