PUYALLUP — Eli Thorsteinson was preparing for a July exhibition game with his summer league team, Saints Baseball, at Grazter Sports Park in Orting when a text came through. It was Centralia College baseball assistant coach Ben Harley and he was offering Thorsteinson a scholarship.
For Thorsteinson, who had just finished his junior year at Cascade Christian High School in Puyallup, locking up an athletic scholarship before his senior year was something he had always hoped for but didn’t think would actually happen. He could hardly believe it.
“I was not expecting it at all,” Thorsteinson said. “It was awesome. Everything you’ve been working for; it’s like, the feeling of it paying off.”
The 6-foot-4, 150-pound right-handed pitcher had been talking with Harley since the Blazers’ pitching coach first came to a Cascade Christian practice back in January to watch Thorsteinson throw a bullpen session. He remembers being nervous knowing a college coach was there to watch him pitch. But those fears subsided, like they usually do, when he stepped onto the mound.
“Before I stepped on the mound, yeah, but then when I did all the nerves went away,” Thorsteinson said.
Harley, who recently completed his Driveline Baseball Coaches Certification on the foundations of pitching, talked to Thorsteinson after the sessions, asked him a couple questions and said he’d be in touch.
It was Harley’s first time seeing Thorsteinson pitch in-person, but he knew what the righty was capable of after seeing tape of him throwing in 2019.
Thorsteinson, who’s been playing travel ball since he was 12 years old, went 8-1 for the Saints during summer 2019, registering a 1.35 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP and 48 strikeouts while surrendering 46 hits, 27 walks and just 10 earned runs across 52 innings.
He uses a three-pitch arsenal, consisting of a fastball, which tops out at 80-81 mph, a changeup and his bread-and-butter pitch, a knuckle-curve.
“I learned to locate it really well and that’s what I usually get my strikeout on,” Thorsteinson said.
With his summer league schedule canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thorsteinson’s main competition this year was at the Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball Showcase Camp in July and Aug. 1-3, where the top high school players in the state are invited to play in front of college scouts at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
Thorsteinson’s Black Team played three nine-inning games in each of the two showcases while Harley watched the livestream from Centralia. Thorsteinson pitched the first five innings of the third game during the July showcase, finishing with five strikeouts and giving up one earned run and one hit on 70-some pitches. He closed the first game and threw the first four innings of the third game during the August showcase.
His goal in high school has been to enter his senior year already having locked up a college scholarship and enjoy that sense of relief while not having to worry about finding a new home during his final prep season.
“I always hoped for it, it was always a dream,” Thorsteinson said. “Now that it’s becoming a reality, it’s kind of crazy.”
Thorsteinson visited Skagit Community College and the University of Puget Sound, but Centralia was the first program to start following his progress and reach out to him. The overall program is what drew him in. He went through an hour-long slideshow with Centralia head coach Kawika Emsley-Pai, which included in-detail information on the pitching program, eating program and how the team uses data-driven baseball performance training to build its players up.
“I just know it’s the right place for me to go and get better and move forth with my baseball career,” Thorsteinson said.
Centralia College went 5-5 this spring, the second-best overall record in the Northwest Athletic Conference West Region, before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Blazers went 15-32 overall and 10-15 in league while finishing fourth in the West Region in 2019. They lose 10 total players from last season, including five who moved on to four-year programs.
Thorsteinson is no stranger to Centralia. He has played summer league games at Borst Park in the past and visited the college’s campus and baseball field two weeks ago. He went with one of his teammates who the Blazers also offered and he already knows a few of the players on the team, as well.
“I’m excited to play with some of the guys I know, meet new guys and have a college family with them all,” Thorsteinson said.