Tommy Watanabe Award

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On Aug. 5, 2017, former Wenatchee AppleSox pitcher Tommy Watanabe passed away at his parent’s home in Sacramento.

Watanabe only played in four games with the AppleSox that summer, but his affable persona was experienced by all who met him. He was an energetic young man who dreamed of playing for as long as he could. Tommy brought the type of energy and respect for the game that the AppleSox look for in every player that comes to Wenatchee.

In 2018, the AppleSox introduced the Tommy Watanabe Award to honor their fallen teammate. This award will be given at the end of every AppleSox season to a player who best exhibits Tommy’s spirit and his passion for AppleSox baseball.

The idea for the award came from José Oglesby, who, though only three months into his first year as owner of the AppleSox, was inspired by all that he had heard about Watanabe to create a way for the team to remember him.

 “Tommy’s story represents what is pure about baseball and sport,” Oglesby said. “I wanted to recognize the current players that embody the spirit of community at the same time. Putting the two together lets us tie our present with our past.”  

Tommy Watanabe personified what it meant to be a member of the Wenatchee AppleSox. In an essay he wrote as a freshman in college, Watanabe stated that he only loved his family and baseball. His love for the game left an impression on everyone that he ran into with the organization and is well known by those who didn’t know him. He is forever a member of the AppleSox and an integral part of the team’s history.

His brief but profound impact will never be forgotten.

2019 Winner: Johnny Sage

(L-R) Head coach Kyle Krustangel, Sage and owner Jose Oglesby.

(L-R) Head coach Kyle Krustangel, Sage and owner Jose Oglesby.

Johnny Sage came to the ballpark with a smile on his face every day in his two years with the AppleSox.

He was always willing to give his time to chat with others, be they fans or opposing players. On the field, Sage invigorated the AppleSox whether it was by clubbing a double to right-center or diving for a fly ball in left field.

He also kept things light by imitating the opposing third-base coach and debating baseball skills with teammates. His head coach Kyle Krustangel affectionately called him ‘Johnny AppleSox’ because of his hustle and performance.

“Johnny is a great example of the type of fine young men that we try to bring to Wenatchee,” AppleSox general manager Ken Osborne said. “We want these ballplayers to be excellent both on-and-off the field and Johnny is a great example of someone who make everyone around him feel great after speaking to him.”

On the field, Sage is equally impressive. In 2019, he led the AppleSox with 11 doubles, 13 stolen bases (tied) and recorded the eighth-best on-base percentage (.429) and the eighth-best batting average (.327) in the West Coast League.

In 2018, Sage tied for the most walks (28), recorded the third-best on-base percentage (.442) and had the seventh-best batting average (.326) in the WCL.

2018 Winner: Jacob Prater

(L-R) Head coach Kyle Krustangel, Prater and owner Jose Oglesby.

(L-R) Head coach Kyle Krustangel, Prater and owner Jose Oglesby.

Jacob Prater spent four seasons in an AppleSox uniform and was always looked at as a leader. Prater laced up the red, white and blue as a player in 2015, 2017 and 2018 before becoming a volunteer assistant coach in 2019.

His energy and leadership were apparent every time he took the field. Whether it was playing six different positions or pumping up teammates with celebrations, Prater exemplified AppleSox baseball perfectly.

Watanabe and Prater were good friends in 2017 and after Watanabe died, Prater would occasionally wear Watanabe’s old warm-up shirt underneath his AppleSox jersey. He also constantly joked with teammates and teased them during interviews. It’s impossible to not catch Prater in a good mood when he’s at the ballpark.

Prater showed off who he is as a ballplayer on July 25, 2018. After the AppleSox had blown a 3-0 lead after six innings to lose, 6-3, to the Cowlitz Black Bears, Krustangel had the entire team run sprints along the outfield track.

Before the second game of the series with Cowlitz, Prater said the Sox needed to get going and that it was on the players to make it happen; the AppleSox had now lost nine of their last 14 games.

“We’ve just got to get everyone on board who wants to be here,” Prater said. “The coaches are here to help but at the end of the day it’s really up to the players playing their hardest.”

Prater backed up his words with his bat. That night, he went 3-for-6 with a triple and 2 RBI in a walk-off victory, then walked off the Black Bears himself the next night with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. The AppleSox would win 10 of their final 14 games and Prater hit .366 during that stretch.That leadership and performance kept the AppleSox in playoff contention until the final weekend after seemingly not having a prayer in late July.

The utilityman and 2019 Seattle University graduate hit a combined .289 in his AppleSox tenure, including a team-best .359 in 2017.