Bill Tsoukalas had a name that was hard to pronounce, and a fastball and changeup that were equally difficult to hit. Facing the Seattle University senior always meant for a complicated day at the ballpark, whether you were a scorekeeper, PA announcer, hitter or pitcher.
The Northwest schools had little success against him, including the Washington Huskies. On May 6, 1969, Tsoukalas (pronounced Sue-Cal-Us) threw a no-hitter for six innings and a one-hitter through seven against them before settling for a 10-3 victory in a night game held at Broadway Playfield. The lefthander struck out 13.
That spring, Tsoukalas emerged as the ace for the Chieftains pitching staff, alternating starts with Tom Couples, older brother of PGA Tour golfer Fred Couples. Tsoukalas went 6-1 with a 1.98 earned run average; Couples finished 5-2 and at 1.64.
"The only thing holding this team back is the rain," said Tsoukalas of his 20-7 team.
With Seattle U returning to full Division I championship eligibility for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the 26th in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
Tsoukalas took the long way to get to Seattle U. After pitching Seattle's now-defunct Lincoln High School to a city championship, he accepted a scholarship from Washington State, but he didn't stay long in Pullman. The Cougars wanted him only as a pitcher, and Tsoukalas felt he deserved to be an all-round player, so he left and ended up at Everett Community College before transferring to SU.
Tsoukalas, a first baseman when he wasn't pitching, twice led the Chieftains in batting, averaging .337 as a sophomore and .339 as a junior, and he finished third on the team after hitting .340 as a senior. He started thinking about the pros and where he'd like to play as his college career wound down.
"I'd kind of like to go with Seattle -- they have a future," he said.
Unfortunately, that was neither true about his hometown Pilots or him. Tsoukalas had a big-league arm, just not the good fortune to go with it. Signing with the Cleveland Indians, he was one of five prospects quickly promoted from the Class A level to AAA and put on the fast track to join the big club. Buddy Bell, Jack Brohamer, Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow each made it by 1972. Arm trouble kept Tsoukalas from advancing with them.
"It was the first month of the season and I was hitting all of the marks," he said of the pro pitching prowess at Triple-A Portland. "I was in Hawaii, and I remember the game but I don't remember the pitch. I came out to the park the next day and my arm was really sore. I never recovered from that."
Tsoukalas bounced around the pro game's different levels through 1975, trying to keep the big-league dream alive, before retiring and returning to Seattle U to coach baseball.
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