Dan Wodrich couldn’t attend Bobo Brayton’s banquet. He wanted to be there when Washington State University honored its winningest coach May 24 by retiring baseball jersey no. 14. He played second base for Brayton in 1977-80, fulfilling a dream he had growing up in Kennewick. But on the day of the banquet, Wodrich, his wife, and three daughters were attending the funeral of a 13-year-old girl, a friend of the family.
Sometimes life throws you a curve.
Not one to let Brayton’s milestone pass without comment, Wodrich (’81 Mech. Engr., ’83 M.S. Mech. Engr.) sent a letter. Brayton shared parts of it with the 225 people attending the recognition dinner in the CUB.
Wodrich noted the parallels between Cougar baseball and life. He expressed the heartfelt respect he has for the man who mentored him.
“You always called me by my name, not a number,” he wrote.
Wodrich was not the fastest or the strongest. Still Brayton saw something special in the 18-year-old prospect. He invited him to play Cougar baseball, and later tagged him with a nickname. “Woodpile,” or just plain “Woody” became part of WSU’s rich baseball heritage.
“There was kind of a rhythm to Cougar baseball,” the 1980 team captain wrote. “Like day and night, season after season . . . get there early, make the play, get the out.
“You showed us how to get down in front of the ball. You got down,” he said of Brayton. “Like a hand in a glove, you were a good fit.”
One generation passes on what it learns to the next, Woody continued. Generations overlap. Cougar baseball traditions become enriched. The sun is out. The Cougars are here.
Even on those dark days when things aren’t going right, when it would be easy to back away from a challenge or give up, Woody remembers his coach’s admonition, “You’ve got to play better longer.”
Former first baseman Hal Brunstad (’66 Zoology) told his coach, “You had a way of giving everyone a day in the sun.”
“He beat Stanford with a hit through the hole,” Brayton recalled of Brunstad. “He’s 57 years old now, and he’s never forgotten that.”
And like several other Cougars, Brunstad sent his son, Kevin, to WSU to play for Brayton.
Practically every guy who played for Brayton could tell a story.
“I learned more about baseball in one year from him than I’d ever known,” said Pat Crook (’62 Bus. Adm.), senior catcher on Bobo’s first team.
Paul Tomlinson (’62 Police Sci.), captain the same year, occasionally delivers motivational speeches to company executives . He cited Brayton for providing his players with “a vision for excellence,” but admitted, “Half of us were in awe of you. Half of us were in fear.”
Current WSU coach Tim Mooney thanked Brayton for his continued support, and as chair of a $1.2 million fund-raising drive to enhance Bailey-Brayton Field with a new synthetic surface.
“He’s there because he wants us to be successful,” Mooney said. “No. 14 will always be a symbol of everything that is good about Cougar baseball.”
At the May 24 WSU-UCLA baseball game, a white banner bearing a red no. 14 encircled by a baseball was unfurled on the rightfield fence. The 77-year-old coaching legend threw out the ceremonial “first pitch.” As the ball smacked into the catcher’s glove, he jabbed a fist into the air to signify a strike. The Cougars went on to win 15-2, appropriately pounding out 14 hits.
“It not number 14 they’re retiring just for Bobo Brayton,” he would say that evening. “It’s for all the players, too.”
Brayton always told his players, “Make the most of where you are.” That applies to life, as well as baseball. When his players looked for greener pastures somewhere else, he encouraged them to “Stay here . . . get the degree.”
During his 33-year (1962-94) coaching career at WSU, Brayton won 1,162 baseball games, and captured 21 league titles, including 13 straight in the old Pac-10 Northern Division. Twice (’65 and ’76) he took WSU to the College Baseball World Series.
Charles Frederick “Bobo” Brayton (’50 Phys. Educ., ’50 Educ., ’59 M.S. Phys. Ed.) came to WSU from Birdsview, a small logging community in Skagit County. He wore no. 14 while earning 12 varsity letters at WSU, becoming the school’s first baseball All-America in 1947 as a shortstop, and during more than three decades as baseball coach.
As a final gesture at the banquet, he called “Butch,” a student dressed up in the uniform of the University’s cougar mascot to the podium.
“I’ve worn no. 14 ever since I was a freshman in high school. Now, I’m bequeathing it to Butch, and all the Butches hereafter.
“I want it to live on [at WSU] long after me.”