Auburn baseball coach’s pitching drill leads to investigation

A parent contacted police and reported the coach for abuse of his child, a member of the Rainier Middle School baseball team.

An Auburn Police Department investigation of a Rainier Middle School baseball coach for “intentionally (hitting) … players with fast balls as punishment” has resulted in inconclusive findings.

A health and fitness teacher at Rainier Middle School returned to his teaching role following the completion of the Auburn Police Department’s investigation. The school district suspended the coach from coaching for “the remainder of the school year,” according to Vicki Alonzo, public information officer for the Auburn School District.

The Auburn Reporter is not naming the coach because he has not been charged with a crime.

The Auburn Police Department initiated an investigation on May 10 after a parent contacted police and reported the coach for abuse of his child, a member of the Rainier Middle School baseball team.

“[The coach] intentionally hit every child, 13 of them, in the team with high velocity baseballs during batting practice as a form of punishment. Several pictures were collected of different kids showing significant bruising on their backs, ribs, and legs as a result of the incident. [The coach] advised the team not to let their parents know what happened during practice, which is predatory and abusive behavior that prevents victims from speaking up,” the man advised in a statement to police. “… As someone with 30 years of experience playing, coaching, and observing baseball from little league to high school level, I can confidently say that what the coach did to the children was not a baseball drill. It is unacceptable and completely out of line for a coach to intentionally hit players, especially young children, with high-velocity (70 mph) baseballs.”

Officer Luke Goethals, school resource officer for the Auburn Police Department, handled the initial dispatch to the child abuse report. According to the officer’s report, he received an email from Rainier Middle School principal Justin Maier telling him that Jon Aarstad, human resources director of safety and security, initiated an internal investigation of the incident.

Aarstad advised Goethals in a call that he “would be terminating [the coach] as a coach.”

On May 17, the Auburn Reporter emailed Alonzo asking, “Has the school conducted its own internal investigation regarding the incident? If so, has the investigation yielded any information as of yet? Thank you!” On May 18, Alonzo responded, “No.”

Following his initial investigation, Officer Goethals forwarded the case to the Auburn Police Department’s Detective Division for further review and consideration of charges for assault of a child in the third degree, according to a police report regarding the incident.

Detective Douglas Faini of the Auburn Police Department and Detective Vince Martinez handled further investigation of the incident, interviewing the players one at a time on May 12.

One player “allowed me to see the bruise that was still on his back, which was about five days after the incident,” Faini wrote in his police report regarding one of the interviews. “The mark was almost completely faded, but I could see a slight circular mark near the center of his back. [Player’s name redacted] said some of the players were mad about the drill, but most were fine with it.”

In another interview, a player stated “[the coach] told the players during practice that they needed to turn and take the pitch. During batting practice, [the coach] said each player had to take one pitch. Some of the players laughed when they got hit with the pitch.”

The coach himself agreed to an interview on May 17 with Faini.

In the interview, the coach explained the incident served as a drill, with “the purpose of taking the pitch … only to teach them how to take a hit safely without fearing it or injuring themselves.”

Faini stated that the coach said the decision to have players learn to stay in the box and take a hit from a pitch never served as part of a punishment.

Faini stated in his investigation of the incident that he found insufficient evidence for the initial allegations.

In regards to the concerns of the initial complaint, Faini stated that the players indicated the speed of the pitches served as consistent with game pitches and batting practice, estimated as between 60-65 mph, not high velocity at 70 mph.

Faini stated that in regards to concerns of the coach telling players not to tell parents about the practice, none of the players stated that, rather “that type of comment was said to the team at the beginning of the season and was more to the point of ‘what happens at practice, stays at practice.’”

“I do not find sufficient evidence that the coach purposely struck the players with balls during batting practice as a form of punishment. … The players had positive comments to say about the coaching style of the coach and there were no other issues or concerns about him,” Faini states in his report.

The department referred the case to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review on June 21 as the initial allegations involved child abuse and assault of a child. Additionally, the department referred the case to Child Protective Services for review.