If it’s true that pitchers are born, not made, West Valley League batters should have seen Pete Tjaarda coming.
His potential future teammates in McMinnville’s Little League program may have. Young Pete was coached by his father, Harmen, a fastpitch softball pitcher of repute.
“Everybody tries to teach you control at a young age but it’s not always easy,” Pete says. “My brother and I were terrors in Little League because we threw pretty hard.”
Control was one of few attributes that did not come easily to Tjaarda (pronounced CHAIR-duh). Once it did, the 2014 McMinnville High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee enjoyed an outstanding amateur career that eventually led to a Pacific-10 Conference school. Baseball was his first love, but Tjaarda’s athletic gifts translated into any season.
In football, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Tjaarda exhibited such all-around skills as to earn second-team all-Willamette Valley League honors as a kicker his junior year and as a linebacker his senior year. His blocking skills kept friend and quarterback Lance Rice upright from the halfback position, and he was an able rushing and receiving threat out of the backfield. In his senior season, Tjaarda tallied 263 rushing yards on 66 carries and 287 receiving yards on 17 catches.
Once November neared its conclusion, Tjaarda traded cleats for sneakers and started at forward for the McMinnville basketball team. Basketball was certainly not his favorite sport, but as a physical forward Tjaarda helped the Grizzlies to a West Valley League championship and a fourth-place finish in Class AAA in 1983.
Springtime, of course, was Tjaarda’s time.
“That was primarily the only youth sport I played,” he says of baseball. “It was always my favorite sport.”
Blessed with a powerful fastball, curveball and “not much of a changeup,” he admits, Tjaarda was a formidable foe. He developed into a first-team all-state pitcher by his senior season and joined an outstanding group of Grizzlies – Lance Rice, Lance Donaly and Bryce Hulstrom among them – in achieving a pair of fourth-place finishes in Class AAA.
As a senior in 1984, Tjaarda finished with a 9-3 record on the mound and an earned-run average below 1.20. At the plate, he was no less a threat, batting over .400 on the season. He was unanimously selected Most Valuable Player of the Willamette Valley League.
His crowning moment was a seven-strikeout performance against rival Tigard in the Class AAA quarterfinals, a 3-2 McMinnville victory. (The Grizzlies would fall to the North Medford Black Tornado in the semifinals.)
“What a storybook ending,” McMinnville baseball coach Ross Peterson told the News-Register following that Tigard game. “Here’s the pitcher, MVP of the league with a 4.0 grade-point average, who when the game is over shakes everyone’s hand and just walks off the field without appearing to be too excited.”
Schools from around the Pacific Northwest recruited Tjaarda to play any one of his three sports; Linfield, he mentions, wanted him to play football for the hometown Wildcats. Bob MacDonald, the head coach of the University of Washington baseball team, developed a good relationship with Tjaarda, and he committed to the Huskies without having visited the campus.
Tjaarda grew to love Husky Ballpark, UW’s home field, which underwent extensive renovations in 2012.
“From a pitcher’s standpoint, the old one was beautiful,” he says. “Grass infield, big ballpark, air was dead as dead can be. Kind of a pitching paradise.”
The Huskies enjoyed their best season in nearly a decade in 1985, Tjaarda’s first on the pitching staff. Washington finished the year 36-12 and placed second in the Pac-12 North with a 15-9 conference record. Tjaarda and Bob Goucher pitched a five-inning no-hitter on April 3, 1985, a 10-0, rain-shortened victory over Seattle University. Tjaarda threw the fifth and final inning to clinch the feat.
Durability marked his career with the Huskies. Tjaarda started 37 games in his career and pitched 241.0 innings, the most in school history by the time he left Seattle. He ranks ninth all-time in strikeouts (176) and fourth in complete games (14).
Durability comes with a price, however – Tjaarda is UW’s all-time leader in losses, with 17 over the course of his career.
After college, Tjaarda returned to McMinnville to work for Harmen’s masonry business and played in the Fast Pitch Baseball League for eight seasons.
“In the springtime, we had a bunch of guys that were trying to make the minor-league teams down there,” he says. “I never tried to make a roster. I just went down there and played.”
After retiring from fastpitch baseball, Tjaarda gave fastpitch softball a whirl, playing games in Arizona with his father. He has since returned to Yamhill County, where his latest athletic obsession is golf. Tjaarda claims a handicap of 1.3 in the midst of what he considers a slump. “If I ever get ahold of one (off the tee) I can get it to about 300 (yards),” he says.
Figures. He’s a natural at that sport, too.