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Father-son ties adding new chapter to Newport baseball rivalry | Prep sports feature
Todd Reese remembers the days as a youngster around the Issaquah baseball program, following head coach and father Rob around the old natural grass diamond, idolizing the purple and gold clad varsity team members.
The memories of the family ties to their KingCo championships and a trio of state titles are also fond ones for the longtime skipper of the Eagles, along with a pair of assistants in Steve Sanelli and Fred Caponigro who have known and coached Todd throughout his youth.
But rather than suiting up for his father and the Eagles as a player, after doing so as a bat boy for state championship squads, Todd headed to the other side of Newport Way, to Issaquah's fiercest rivals on the baseball diamond.
"I played Thunderbird Little League my whole life, and grew up with these guys," Todd said of the Bellevue league that feeds Newport High School and draws from the area that borders the Issaquah School District boundary.
Rob said the plan was always for his son to attend Newport and remain with his neighborhood classmates and friends, rather than inherit the pressure of being the coach's son for the Eagles. But during his childhood, as Rob led Issaquah to state championships in 2000, 2004 and 2007, Todd and the rest of the family were a fixture in the stands and on the field.
Rob said one of the most vivid memories of his coaching tenure is the program's most recent title, when he grabbed a young Todd from over the Safeco Field railing and brought him on the field to join the celebration.
"I still watch the video of that one sometimes," he said, recalling his own parents in the front row with his wife and Todd. "I will never forget that the rest of my life."
The past two-plus years have been anything but easy as a father, with Rob only able to see his son play in the conflicted instances when he faces Issaquah.
"It's been really difficult, not being able to see him and not having my wife here," Rob said. "He has such a great group of friends he grew up with."
Newport coach Brad Files has coached for nearly two decades alongside Rob, Sanelli and Caponigro with Lakeside Recovery's American Legion program during the summer, and as close family friends has known Todd his entire life.
"We've been looking forward to having him here, and it has gone by fast," Files said. "We try to make the most of it every day and enjoy the experience."
The decision has worked out well for Todd, and even better for the Knights during his varsity tenure.
He has played in all of his team's games in the field or on the mound, and is third on the team in hits and second in RBI.
He has been the workhorse of the pitching staff, throwing a team high 36 innings and a third, and posting a 1.93 earned run average.
Even with the unenviable task of taking on his own father as the starting pitcher in a Newport win over Issaquah earlier this year, Todd has shined.
"It's probably the most nervous I've ever been," he said of a 5-4 victory where he started on the mound and delivered the game winning base hit. "It felt good to beat them. But there was no gloating, anything like that."
Dad got the best of the second matchup earlier this week, as Issaquah downed Newport 5-3, with Todd pitching in relief and picking up an RBI at the plate.
He said the respect between he and his dad, developed through baseball, has been one of the most rewarding parts of his growth in a game he has been around for longer than he can remember.
On the day he was born, his father's Eagles were slated for a non-league game against Kentridge.
After staying for the birth of his first son, Rob headed to the diamond to catch whatever was left of the early season tilt. Not long after, his wife was released from the hospital and came to the field, starting a connection on the diamond that has helped shape their lives in the years since.
"I was in my jeans," Rob recalled, having passed along head coaching duties to Sanelli for the day. "Tami got out of the hospital and brought Todd. He's been around Issaquah his whole life."