Vashon Baseball Academy pitches travel baseball to island youth

It’s an opportunity for dedicated island baseballers to seriously develop their skills at a younger age.

Island youth looking for an opportunity to play baseball at the next level now have their chance: The Vashon Baseball Academy (VBA).

The program, whose teams are known as the Tsunamis, gives island youth highly skilled coaching and competitive play on a travel team — a level of youth baseball beyond regular high school play, said co-founder and coach Robin Magonegil.

It’s a way for Vashon families to avoid burning time and money on select teams in Tacoma or Seattle, and an opportunity for dedicated island baseballers to seriously develop their skills at a younger age and with highly qualified coaching.

“It’s giving people on the island a chance for their kids to play higher competitive baseball,” Magonegil said, “which is what’s going to save our high school team eventually, because the kids that won state in 2016, most of those boys all played together off island on a select travel team.”

The Tsunami started their first season last summer and just wrapped up their fall league. In that time, they’ve grown from a single team to four, demonstrating the demand from island families for an elite on-island baseball program. The program now fields more than 30 young people. Fundraising and sponsorship has helped the teams get jerseys, helmets and other gear.

The program runs $150 to register for fall ball, and the coaching team are all volunteers.

“We’re not trying to make money off this club; none of us are paid,” Magonegil said. “We’re just trying to break even.”

The coaches include co-founders Magonegil, Stephen Dardeau and Finn Magonegil, the latter of whom is the lead instructor; Jude Dardeau (Stephen’s son), Keith Meighan, and Seth Ressler. The teams’ instructors also include Dardeau and Brent Calhoun.

Finn Magonegil, a 17-year-old high school senior, has played baseball since he was four or five and “never took a year off.” After his high-school career completes, he hopes he might play at the college level — though he acknowledges the extremely high skill level required.

Now, his foray into coaching has revealed a new dimension to the sport he loves, and Finn said being an active player helps him work on the nitty-gritty with the players. As an instructor, he runs practices, draws up training plans and draws on his baseball knowledge to correct and direct the intricate parts of the game.

As an athlete, “you kind of have this idea of your coaches, and how you’re the player,” Finn said. “But when you become a coach, you begin to be able to see through your player’s eyes. … I can really understand what these kids want. … I feel like having a coach who’s younger can kind of connect with you on a different level than someone who’s older.”

Fulfilling a need

Robin Magonegil is the president of the Vashon Basketball Club, founder of the Vashon Baseball Academy and a former board member of the Vashon Youth Baseball and Softball club.

She’s been running recreation baseball camps for several years, and ran a team-building fall ball camp in August.

Magonegil’s son and daughter both played recreational baseball, and Finn quickly demonstrated the skills to play select baseball.

But Vashon had no select program, so Magonegil and the family spent $3,500 to $4,000 per year, she said, plus travel and tournament expenses, for Finn to play with an off-island select baseball team starting around the age of nine.

Over the next few years Finn continued playing on-island baseball, briefly played for a team called the Vikings with his friends, and last year joined New Level Baseball.

For many of the older kids, their options for competing on island started and ended at playing each other at the rec club.

“There’s a spot for that, there’s a need for that,” Magonegil said. “We still support recreation baseball, but we want to give kids that want to play at a higher level [an opportunity to do so].”

Magonegil has coached a local all-star recreational team, and last year worked with Dardeau to coach 11 and 12-year-old athletes in a travel team at the recreational Vashon Youth Baseball and Softball club. That experimental travel ball team only lasted a year.

So Finn told Magonegil she should do her own thing, and “that’s exactly what we did,” she said — fundraising with Dardeau to create a now 10u, 11u, 12u and 13u team. (The terms refer to the maximum age of competitors in each team, and the 13u team isn’t yet full so it’s supplemented with 12 year-old-players.)

“There’s a need for these kids (who) can’t afford [other select teams], or their parents have more than one kid, or they don’t want the time commitment of driving their kid to Tacoma or Seattle three or four days a week, and paying $3,000 to $5,000 to be able to compete and play at more than a recreational level,” Magonegil said.

One of those kids is Lucian Reissiger, a pitcher and catcher who turns 10 in December.

Lucian jumped at the chance to play with the Tsunamis, his mom Annie Reissiger said.

“He’s never played any kind of baseball until this last year,” Reissiger said. “And last spring, he decided he was ready to try organized baseball in the regular league on Vashon, and he just had a real affinity and a love for it.”

Travel baseball is new to them, but it’s given Lucian a chance to hone his skills, build camaraderie and teamwork and see the wider world.

“I think it’s so good for the kids to get to play against diverse teams, and get to see all kinds of competition, and different parts of the area we live in,” she said. “I just feel like the kids get so isolated on the island.”

As it happens, this town is big enough for the two of the recreation and travel teams on the island, Reissiger said: “I see the benefit of both kinds of teams being on Vashon.”

For the love of the game

The Tsunamis entered a double-A Vancouver, Washington tournament this year — facing intimidating teams with more experience and resources, Finn said.

“Everybody was kind of nervous,” he said. “It was their first big tournament, their first real travel ball experience. The other teams had nice jerseys on, they had really expensive bats. … But our boys went out and went 3-0 in pool play, beating every team they faced.”

“But you know how baseball goes,” he said: “First round of playoffs, they lost to the first team that they beat in pool play.”

Despite that rout, it was an eye-opening experience that gave the team confidence, Finn said. Vashon’s players can go up against anyone.

And of course, there was the team bonding — staying up late eating pizza and swimming in the pool at their hotel.

“We love them and we love baseball,” Finn said. “We’re just doing this for the love of the game.”

Coaching for the Tsunamis has been a chance for Finn to pass on the support and opportunities his family gave him at a tender age to the next generation.

“I’ll always be grateful for my parents paying for me to play baseball, because it’s very expensive,” he said. “The fees, ferry costs, hotels and gas. It adds up.”

When you join an off-island select or travel baseball team, “you’re paying for the coaching and expertise,” Finn said. “I want to give them that level of coaching. … I’ve been trained by all those guys.”

Plus, he’s been able to show the youth the high level of skill they’ll need to attain if they want to play at the college level — something he said most baseballers on the island don’t start seriously considering until high school.

“There has to be a realistic expectation for us playing in college, and I want to give [them] that,” Finn said. “There are guys around me who are a lot better. They can throw harder and hit the ball further.”

And, of course, it’s just fun to play baseball.

Lucian said he’s enjoyed “hanging out with my friends, playing a sport that I love and learning how to get better.”

“I just love playing for them,” Lucian said. “It’s been amazing.”

How to participate

The Vashon Tsunamis train with anyone year-round and put on a fall ball developmental league. This winter, they’ll play a few indoor tournaments, Finn said. By the time February and March tournaments start, it’s the dozen-or-so baseballers putting in the most time, practice and skilled play who go on to compete.

“We’ve been really upfront with the parents on all of this,” Robin Magonegil said, “and they know that going into it.”

The team just finished fall tryouts and added new players to the team, but they’ll hold tryouts again this spring. If a kid misses tryouts but still wants to compete, the team can hold individual tryouts any time of year, Magonegil said.

The VBA encourages players to pursue other sports they’re interested in, Magonegil said, and will work with their practice and game schedules so they’re not forced to choose.

The Tsunamis are sponsored by Pandora’s Box, Thriftway, IGA Market, Ace Hardware, and Performance Reps Northwest — help from whom is why the team even got off the ground, Magonegil said.

Magonegil said they’re hoping to grow the team. Learn more by visiting