Beloved SW baseball coach Wyatt Tonkin dies at 69

Friday, March 29, 2024

Wyatt Tonkin
Photo courtesy Shorewood Boosters
Longtime Shorewood HS Baseball coach Wyatt Tonkin passed away this week. He was 69 years old.

He probably wasn't any taller than 6-1, but in every way he was a big big man. When he shook your hand, you knew your hand had gotten shook. You were just happy to even see it again. And you could feel one of his bear hugs for three days.

His life will be celebrated this Saturday, March 30, 2024 at 1:30pm in the Shorewood gym. Maybe bring a cushion to sit on. Given the number of young men he coached (as well as the people he saw for years on a daily basis at Shorewood), and all the stories they have to tell, the celebration could easily go extra innings.

In 2017 Tonkin was inducted into the Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame
Photo by Wayne Pridemore

Wyatt compiled an amazing record at Shorewood, posting 367 wins against 145 losses, for a winning percentage of 72%.

For reference, such a winning percentage taken over a major league 162-game schedule would work out to 116 wins.

The famous handshake. Photo by Wayne Pridemore
Five times he took his team to the State tournament semi-finals. His teams brought home two 4th place trophies, one 3rd place, trophy, and twice they came heartbreakingly close to winning the State Championship, only to fall just short. 

His most decorated former player is Blake Snell, two-time Cy Young Award winner, now with the SF Giants.

Wyatt attended the University of Washington. In 1976, he was drafted in the 20th round by the Atlanta Braves. 

He pitched three seasons in the minor leagues, rising to the level of A ball before he left the game as a player.

Photo by Wayne Pridemore

Shorecrest Baseball Coach Alan Bruns has a unique perspective on Coach Tonkin, likely knowing him better on the baseball field than anybody.

Said Coach Bruns, "He brought me in as his JV coach in 1999 and I spent 6 seasons there before taking the head position at SC in 2005. This would've been our 19th year of going head to head (we lost the 2020 season of course). 
"Wyatt was always teaching, not just his players but other coaches as well. The baseball lessons came along with a terrific story from his storied baseball past. As a young coach he showed me the importance of building team camaraderie, paying attention to the little things, and making sure players understand the purpose of what they were doing in practice. 
"He's also the most observant coach I've ever been around. He was always noticing subtle tendencies of opposing hitters, finding "tells" in an opposing pitcher's delivery, and picking up on other coaches' habits in how they ran their offense on the bases. With all that said, everything Wyatt did and said was from the heart."

Photo by Wayne Pridemore

Shorewood Principal, Bill Dunbar, kindly shared his thoughts on Coach Tonkin.

"Wyatt has been such a presence in our school for more than 20 years. 
"He was one of the greats in coaching in our region. He focused on character, teamwork, developing young players, mentoring and I've never seen another coach who could bring a group of athletes together to form a team the way he can. 
"Over the years Wyatt taught us all many things about school spirit, about life, about sportsmanship, teamwork and competition. He loved being here and being part of Shorewood in so many different ways ... as a coach for baseball and assisting in football, as gym manager for all of our gym events at every level ( basketball, volleyball, wrestling) and any other event we hosted. 
"He would chaperone social events (dances and prom) and act as a substitute school security monitor whenever we needed him. He was one of the finest coaches in realizing also the impact he could have as a mentor both on and off the field. "

Anyone who lingered in the gym after an event Wyatt managed knew what music he preferred. His gym, his music. Expect to hear the Beach Boys blaring Saturday afternoon.

Photo by Wayne Pridemore

Every summer Wyatt coached a local Select team, most of their games getting played after school let out in June, against the circuit of other like-talented teams. While those games didn't attract nearly the attention that HS games did, they were of high importance to him. It was well within his skill-set to give real-time evaluations to umpires, particularly those whose eyesight or judgement came into question.

His death occurred almost seven years to the day after his beloved wife Alice passed. It's safe to say he never got over it.

And it's safe to say no man ever loved his wife more than Wyatt Tonkin loved his Alice.

He leaves behind two outstanding sons, Shea and Tyler, and their young families.

They're hurting.

They could use all the bear hugs you've got.

--Frank Workman


Anonymous,  March 29, 2024 at 7:38 AM  

Thank you for sharing more about this great man.

Anonymous,  March 29, 2024 at 9:12 AM  

A baseball icon! What a great legacy he leaves to Shorewood High School. Beautiful obit, Frank.

Frank Marier Jr,  March 29, 2024 at 1:04 PM  

Mr. Workman, thank you for this wonderful article on Wyatt. Being with Wyatt was like being with Royalty regarding the game of baseball. Coaches, umpires and anyone involved with the game respected his ability at his craft and his friendship as a person. His positive impact on everyone he came into contact was enormous. As a baseball coach , he had with no question, the ability and skills to work at the Highest level of the game but he loved teaching and mentoring the younger athletes to the game. He was a competitor but always believed in fair play and would often after a game, talk to an opposing player or coach if there was something he noticed in that players pitching abilities that he thought might help the kid. He would say, probably helped that kid so he can come back and beat us down the road. Lol. He had two Churches, the one he regularly attended and the Church of Baseball which was the MLB Network. He was a baseball and history buff. Always learning, always interested in learning more. He took great care in making sure his players were student-athletes and becoming productive and good community citizens and loved when his ex-players would come by the field or call him just to say hi. He was very humble and always gave his players the credit. If there was a Mt. Rushmore for High School Baseball Coaches from Washington State, Wyatt would be on that Monument. T-Bird-Storm Ray Nation has had a heartbreaking and difficult week.
Wyatt, you left a huge imprint on so many, and everyone who knew you or met you, will always keep a piece of you in them. You will never be forgotten , always in our hearts Tonkinator! Comfort to all family, and friends.

Anonymous,  March 29, 2024 at 3:37 PM  

What a wonderful tribute!!! Thank you from all of us who loved Wyatt!!! NG

Anonymous,  March 29, 2024 at 6:20 PM  

Shea and Tyler....You and your mom and dad spent quite a bit of time at our house when you were young fellowes .
Janice and I always enjoyed having you in our home......until you two started to do the Mexican 'hat dance' on her glass top coffee table.......just kidding.
Your dad was so proud of you two.
Wyatt will always be in my heart.
He always said I had a better 'hand shake than him"
But his hugs were better.
Love You Guys and RSP for you dad.
Chuck & Janice Iten

John Philbeck former umpire,  March 29, 2024 at 10:06 PM  

Wyatt Tompkins was one of the most consistent, fair, honorable leader of young men Seattle has ever seen.

His teams always played with passion but also with a complete awareness of the game situation. He taught everybody how to play the game and how the game should be played.

As an official it was an honor to have Wyatt on the field. While we didn’t always agree, he never let that go past the moment and, even though he was wrong, he forgave us for his mistakes.

It is with a heavy heart I write this, but it is with joy in my soul remembering the games and fields we shared for so many years.

Thank you Wyatt. You are fondly remembered and you will be sadly missed.

John Philbeck
Former NBUA Umpire

Ray Davis,  March 30, 2024 at 7:04 PM  

Rename meridian park field to Wyatt Tonkin field, I think that would be super cool.

Anonymous,  March 31, 2024 at 9:32 AM  

I agree with Ray! What an honor that would be for the winningest coach in Shorewood history!!!!

Anonymous,  March 31, 2024 at 10:58 AM  

I think Tonkin Park sounds a little bit better but I am onboard with this concept too!

Anonymous,  March 31, 2024 at 2:55 PM  

Tonkin Field at Meridian Park. It is a no brainer and so well deserved. Be a nice way to honor him.

Anonymous,  April 1, 2024 at 12:48 PM  

Wyatt and I (Stu Livingstone) signed with the Braves in the 1976 Draft. We met in Spring Training 1977 and played together for a year until, eventually the dream ended and we were released. We stayed in touch through the years (more to Wyatt’s credit than my own). He was a good teammate and a good friend. Instead of remembering him as a ball player, I will remember his humor, candor, loyalty and love of the game. He was what we need most right now; a man who aspired to goodness, generosity and to the idea than we can be better when we work toward the common good. God bless Wyatt Tonkin (from teamlivi).

Anonymous,  April 3, 2024 at 6:28 AM  

Wyatt was a good guy, great teammate and quite a classmate at O'Dea ('72). The world is a poorer place. Vaya con Dios.

Stu Soules,  April 4, 2024 at 10:53 AM  

Wyatt worked for System Transfer for 18 years before he retired in 2006. He was much loved by all of our customers, especially Alaskan Copper who Wyatt worked for daily his during last several years at System. Alaskan Copper was his "second home" and he was their favorite System driver.
Both System and Alaskan Copper would do everything possible to help Wyatt get off work in time to make it to his baseball practices at Shorewood. We knew how important it was to him and how much he loved the players and students there. Both of my nieces went to Shorewood and they would always regale me with Wyatt stories and of course tales of the exploits of Shea and Tyler.
After he retired Wyatt would occasionally drop by to see us at System. I always enjoyed seeing him and hearing about his family and friends. He loved Alice and the Tyler and Shea and was very proud of his sons accomplishments.
On behalf of myself, the System crew and the entire Soules family we consider ourselves blessed to have known Wyatt and we send our best to his family.

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