Try as he might, Timberline’s Tristan King can’t blend into the crowd.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, his frame forbids hiding. His Australian accent always catches ears. And moments of culture shock — searching for a bag of potato gems at the grocery store only to find tater tots — remind him he’s in another country.
But where Timberline’s senior catcher stands out the most is on the baseball diamond, leading the defending state champions back into the 5A state tournament. The Wolves (24-3) face northern Idaho champ Lake City (16-8) in the first round at 1 p.m. Thursday at Boise’s Memorial Stadium.
“He’s a threat to hit the ball out of the park at any time,” Timberline coach Larry Price said. “He doesn’t strike out much, so a big guy that has some pop, that’s a huge advantage for us.”
King enters the state tournament hitting .425 with a team-leading five home runs and 36 RBIs. His latest homer came as a three-run, walk-off bomb in the eighth inning against Rocky Mountain to clinch the Wolves’ state berth.
4 strikeouts in 80 at-bats for Tristan King this season
That powerful swing is one Timberline senior pitcher Trey Steffler has grown accustomed to in practice.
“It’s scary sometimes,” Steffler said Wednesday, moments after King deposited a couple more balls over the Timberline fence during batting practice. “You’ve got to watch out on the changeups. Anything that you hang, you get embarrassed in practice.”
Born in Brunei — a southeast Asian country the size of Delaware — to an American mother, King first visited Boise last summer during an American Legion tournament with the Perth Heat Colts, an Australian traveling club.
Steve Fish, his coach and a right-handed pitcher for the Boise Hawks in 1997, wanted to find King a U.S. high school to attend to improve his professional prospects. He recommended Timberline, one of the fields Perth played on last summer.
King’s mother contacted Price, and two days after helping Australia finish fourth at the U-18 Baseball World Cup in Osaka, Japan, King packed up and headed to Timberline.
“In Australia, there isn’t much emphasis to going to school,” King said. “From the knowledge of seeing friends of mine getting signed (by MLB teams) and coming back and not really having anything to fall back on, it was just something — especially in my position with a U.S. passport and family over here — it just pushes that opportunity to go to school and further my education before hopefully going pro.”
King has committed to Palomar College, a junior college outside of San Diego. With his size behind the plate, Price said he’ll draw pro scouts.
“It’s just a matter of his work ethic and what he puts into it, and as he grows how he gets better,” Price said. “He will attract people just because you don’t see kids that big that can catch, and he’s athletic at first (base).”
King’s teammates tease him about his accent and ending every text with the word “mate.” Ninety feet still separate the bases on the diamond, but King’s culture shock doesn’t stop at the entrance to the field. Playing on Australian club teams with men as old as 40 hitting the field after 9-to-5 jobs, he had to adjust to the camaraderie and emotion of a high school team on the first step of the dugout for every pitch.
He quickly adds he’d recommend the experience to his Australian friends.
“The whole style of play and the whole system they work by is completely different and completely new,” King said of the U.S. “It’s definitely more of a — I wouldn’t say aggressive — but ecstatic, more exciting, just because of the way the team acts with each other.”
State tourneys take over Valley
▪ Baseball: Thursday through Saturday at Memorial Stadium (5A), Fruitland High (3A) and Wolfe Field in Caldwell (1A)
▪ Tennis: Championship matches begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Appleton Tennis Center (5A), Boise Racquet & Swim Club (4A) and Vallivue High (3A)
▪ Track & field: Competition is Friday and Saturday at Dona Larsen Park in Boise (5A/4A) and Middleton High (3A/2A/1A)