DN grads Travis and Michelle Stacey play first seasons in D-I baseball, D-II softball
In the summer of 2011, Travis and Michelle Stacey put in the hard work.
After walking on to the BYU baseball team following his Del Norte High School career, Travis Stacey, left, played in one game for the Cougars. Michelle Stacey, right, also a Del Norte High graduate, played nine games for Division II BYU-Hawaii this season. Submitted
The two siblings and Del Norte High School graduates were preparing for the next steps of their athletic careers, Travis as a freshman walking on to the Brigham Young University baseball team and Michelle in her junior season with Division II BYU-Hawaii softball after two years at College of the Redwoods.
They hit ground balls to each other in the backyard of their parents’ Crescent City home. They lifted weights in the garage. They worked together and leaned on each other for support.
“They’re very competitive against each other,” says Kris Stacey, Travis and Michelle’s mother.
The Staceys are unquestionably a baseball family. Bruce Stacey, the family patriarch and a correctional officer at Pelican Bay State Prison, taught his children the game at a young age and coached them in their Little League years. (Travis and Michelle’s older brother John spent a redshirt season at Butte Community College.)
What the kids came to learn was how much work was involved in achieving athletic goals.
“Travis would come home and hit balls off the tee after practice,” Kris Stacey says. “With Michelle, it was more in college than in high school. Once she went to the next level, she (put in more work).”
Travis and Michelle wanted to show their coaches that they belonged at the highest levels of college baseball and softball. They have done so this spring, and they have done so together.
‘I got a whole lot better’
Travis had a six-week tryout period to make the team, and he impressed right away.
“He played extremely hard,” Roberts recalls. “He’s big, tall. The way he swung the bat, there was opportunity there.
“He showed a lot of promise at the plate with the ability to use his hands. He outplayed (other walk-ons).”
Roberts also came away impressed at Travis’ physical shape — thanks to the summer workouts he and Michelle undertook together. “That was huge momentum,” Roberts says, coming into baseball’s fall camp.
Travis’ calling card at the Division I level is his ability to hit for power. With that frame of mind, Roberts and Cougars head coach Vance Law worked with Travis on maintaining a powerful, repeatable swing.
“I’ve grown tremendously,” Travis says. “I’ve always thought I was pretty good. I got a whole lot better playing with everyone.”
Walk-on players inevitably find playing time hard to come by. Travis did, and he was not deterred — he took mental notes from his teammates who did play regularly.
“Our guys love him (and) love being around him,” Roberts says.
Travis made a single appearance for the Cougars this season, on March 12 against Nebraska-Omaha. In his lone at-bat, he struck out looking. “I’d say it was a ball, but you can’t really argue with the ump,” he says. BYU won the game, 19-9.
As the season wound down, Travis and other walk-on players were informed that they would not be playing in the Cougars’ last games. Roberts says that Travis took that in stride while maintaining his level of commitment to the team.
“He was like, ‘I want to be here, I want to finish out the season,’” Roberts says. “He’s been really good at listening, knowing his role. Hopefully he’ll just keep that mentality up (in the future).”
In its first season of West Coast Conference baseball after conference reshuffling last year, BYU struggled down the stretch. The Cougars went 5-15 over their last 20 games, finishing with a 22-27 overall record and a 10-14 WCC record. BYU finished seventh in the nine-team conference and did not qualify for postseason play.
Travis keeps in close contact with Michelle, often calling her after games and on road trips to talk about baseball and life.
“I’m so proud of him,” Michelle says. “We were both told we couldn’t get to where we are. We’ve had a lot of adversity (to overcome) to get to where we are.”
Great place, tough season
Michelle had her heart set on BYU-Hawaii after playing her freshman year at College of the Redwoods. A visit to the campus in Laie, Hawaii, further sealed her decision.
Travis Stacey, pictured at practice at BYU in Provo, Utah, will embark on a Mormon mission to The Philippines later this month. Submitted
“It was the only one I considered,” she says. “I did research on the school and the team — they hadn’t been good. I wanted to change that.
“It’s one of the hardest schools to get into. It’s very diverse. I love all that. It was really surreal to actually be there — it was a dream come true.”
Michelle made fast friends with her new teammates (particularly, she says, the girls originally from Hawaii) and grew excited for the upcoming season.
Ultimately, the season proved to be a test of her mettle. The Seasiders finished 2012 with an 11-24 overall record, winning just six of their 29 Pacific West Conference games, good for ninth place out of 10 teams. (The PacWest in 2012 was highly competitive at the top; league champion Cal Baptist won 49 games and the National Christian College Athletic Association softball national championship.) BYU-Hawaii lost 14 of its last 15 games, including 10 straight to end its season.
Michelle describes a hostile environment in the Seasiders’ dugout and numerous conflicts between players and coaches. (Head coach Scott Lowe did not respond to an e-mail for comment on this story.)
“We had a lot of talent,” Michelle says. “If we had a different coaching staff, we’d be better. (Lowe) was trying to get out of the program.
“At CR, it was hustle, hustle, hustle everywhere. Hawaii wasn’t like that.”
Michelle played in nine games for the Seasiders, starting three, and had a single and a triple in 10 at-bats. She also was hit by a pitch three times, tying for the team lead with sophomore catcher Noelle Lake; Lake had 56 at-bats on the season.
“Pitchers try to throw inside to me,” Michelle says. “When you get hit every single time, you wonder what’s happening.”
Michelle played third base and catcher for BYU-Hawaii, the latter a position she had not played since her middle school days. Michelle came to enjoy the moments when runners tried to steal on her. “Anytime (I threw out a runner), I got stoked on that,” she says.
Through it all, one of her biggest fans was around to support her. On April 21, Travis made the drive from Provo, Utah — where BYU’s campus is located — to St. George, Utah, to watch the Seasiders take on Dixie State College and support his sister.
“I think it was perfect for her to go to Hawaii,” Travis says. “I was jealous of her. I wish they had baseball (at BYU-Hawaii).”
Mission to the Philippines
Travis, who turned 19 on May 18, elected to take a two-year Mormon mission — “something he’s wanted to do his whole life,” according to Kris.
Travis, the first member of his immediate family to embark on a mission trip, was assigned to serve in the Philippines. Beginning June 27, he will spend nine weeks at the Church’s Missionary Training Center in Provo learning Tagalog and Spanish in preparation for his service.
“I was shocked,” Travis recalls about receiving the assignment. “Completely shocked. (But) I was really blessed. It’s going to be a great opportunity for two years.”
Where his athletic career is concerned, Travis has received support from his BYU teammates, coaches and athletic department personnel, soaking up advice and receiving a workout plan from the Cougars’ training staff to help stay in shape. (Missionaries are not explicitly forbidden to work out during missions, but they are limited in hours during the day to attend to personal matters.)
Travis plans on returning to BYU to complete his studies and play baseball; nevertheless, those plans are secondary to the immediate call to serve. “I’m hoping to be able to have grown as a man,” he said.
“We really challenge guys to be 100 percent focused on the work and the people they’re going to serve,” Roberts says. “Kids with baseball on their mind may not be the best missionaries. They have plenty of time when they get home to get their body, their arm back into shape.
“The ones that have that 100 percent focus, which Travis has, make unbelievable missionaries. They change people’s lives.”
Michelle admits that seeing the younger brother she calls “my baby” depart will be “one of the hardest things for me.”
“It’s going to be so good for him,” Michelle says. “He’s been preparing for this his whole life.”