Featured photo by Nick Baker – Grant Gambrell and Hunter Reinke are a combined 17-0 on the mound this season for the state’s No. 1 and nation’s No. 4 ranked Buchanan Bears. Gambrell, a senior, is attending Oregon State and Reinke, a junior, has committed to the University of Oregon.
By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Come every Tuesday and Friday night and you’ll find Gambrell and Reinke standing on top of the pitcher’s mound. One throws fast and the other throws faster. Both are calm and collected. And both have a secret get-a-way, trading cleats for boots, caps for camo, and baseballs for bait.
Their first names are Grant and Hunter, two pitchers for Buchanan who have been towering menaces on the mound all season, leading their team to a No. 1 state and No. 4 national ranking and a sparkling 23-1 overall record.
But behind their competitive fire there’s a quiet, still spirit that’s rare for high school kids in this day of machismo and me-first attitudes. They have every right to pump their fists after a strikeout (there’s been many) and point to the sky after every victory (a combined 17 of them), but there’s none of that here in Bear territory.
They are an intimidating physical presence who share a love of baseball and the outdoors – Gambrell, a senior, with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, and Reinke, a junior, a smidgen behind at 6-foot-3, 190.
The stats match the size; Gambrell was recently named to a top-10 list for National High School player of the Year and Reinke has exploded on the high school baseball scene as the all-important Friday night starter. Gambrell is 9-0 on the season with an ERA of 0.65 and is hitting .360 with four home runs and 29 RBI. Reinke is 8-0 with a 2.90 ERA including a masterful one-hit shutout against Clovis East on April 22.
Theirs is a story of powerful fastballs, a quest for another Valley title and a friendship strengthened by a centuries old pastime – a pastime called fishing.
Yep, during the week they are busy mowing down hitters, but when the weekend rolls around it’s the peacefulness of the lake, the soothing setting sun at dusk and the few that got away that keeps calling them back.
Friends since they met in early elementary school, Reinke was the one who really introduced fishing to Gambrell about two years ago when they started hanging out on a more regular basis. Reinke grew up taking long fishing trips to Alaska with his father, Brian, and Gambrell says he likes to fish with his brother and grandpa. Together, the boys often retreat to a private property in Sanger for their time away from the hustle and bustle of baseball and school.
Why have these two paired such an unlikely combo; the adrenaline-filled battle of pitcher versus batter and the quiet stillness of fishing?
“It’s just so relaxing,” says Gambrell. “My whole life has been baseball and school so when I can get away from that for a while, it’s a great escape for me. It helps to clear your mind.”
“It’s a lot of fun and great to do on a weekend,” Reinke says. “For me, it’s an easy thing to do and always fun. Even if the fish aren’t biting it’s still relaxing.”
But like an outsider watching baseball for the first time, at first Gambrell was missing the finer points of fishing; the depth, the meaning, the details behind the battle between man and fish. By the same token, just as you can’t expect to pick up a baseball for the first time and throw it 90 miles-per-hour, you don’t simply pick up a pole and catch fish.
“At first I didn’t understand it enough to like it,” Gambrell says. “But then he (Hunter) taught me a lot about the experience, like how to bait the worm, tie the hooks and cast the line – the entire process.”
And make no mistake, these fishing buddies are one of the most dangerous one-two pitching tandems in the state. It’s rare to find a high school pitcher who routinely throws in the 90 mile-per-hour range, let alone two. Gambrell’s been clocked as high as 96 and Reinke at 93 earlier this season. Heck, that’s pro stuff right there.
Head coach Tom Donald obviously has a front row seat to these pitchers, knowing their strengths and weaknesses inside and out. While Gambrell is the most polished of the two (he’s only given up an astonishing 16 hits in 52 innings), Reinke is still learning how good he can be – and that’s a scary thought.
“They both have calm demeanors but don’t let that fool you,” said Donald. “They both have a fire in the belly to compete at a very high level. Neither one likes to lose.”
Neither of them may like to lose, but just like stories of the one that got away, Reinke did lose out on a nice catch one day due to a rookie move by Gambrell. On a crowded day at the lake, Reinke hooked a 10-pounder and called Gambrell to grab the net while standing in water only about 3-4 inches deep: “He grabs my line, which you’re not supposed to do, and the line snaps and the fish got away. It was fine though, it was still a fun time.”
Just like Reinke to react like that—chill and relaxed.
But the boys know there is an important task at hand—to continue this dream season after winning the D-1 Valley title last year. Gambrell, despite displaying a blazing fastball last season, waited his time behind two senior starters, and Reinke, though still a sophomore, tallied only 17 total innings.
And they both know that with such a lofty ranking and the league’s built-in rivalries, they’ll get every team’s best every game. They both look forward to the challenge, especially the final two weeks against the state’s No. 6 team Clovis North (20-4-1) and No. 10 team Clovis (21-5).
Both compare the challenge of catching a fish to the challenge of getting hitters out. Gambrell says he doesn’t like things being easy, whether it’s the art of pitching or the art of reeling one in. But one thing is for sure – both have confidence in doing what they do best.
“When we both are on the mound and, in my opinion, with the best combination of offense and defense in the nation, we are pretty hard to beat,” says Gambrell.
And as fate would have it, Gambrell is attending Oregon State next year followed by Reinke to the University of Oregon – one of the biggest rivalries in all of college sports. And of course, they’re already talking and scheming about finding some prime fishing spots up and down the state of Oregon for those all important getaways.
But, in the meantime, creating new memories filled with snapped fishing lines, standing water and the one that got away will have to wait; they still have some fastballs left to throw this season with the occasional sinker thrown in for good measure.