MISSOULA — Eureka grad Hank Dunn wasn’t suiting up for a Eureka-based baseball team when he took to Lindborg-Cregg Field on Thursday at the Missoula Mavericks Memorial Tournament.
He wasn’t playing for a team from the larger nearby city of Kalispell either, or even for a team from the state of Montana for that matter. Dunn was manning the middle of the infield for the Spokane Crew, a select club team based in western Washington.
The three-sport standout in high school is playing for Spokane for the second season in a row, making the trek four hours westward from his home in extreme northwest Montana, which is just 12 miles south of the Canadian border. It’s his current stop on a whirlwind journey that’s taken the kid from small-town Montana around the country in search of high-level baseball.
Dunn found what he was looking for in Spokane and transformed that opportunity into the chance to continue playing baseball at Yakima Valley College in south-central Washington beginning this coming school year.
“It’s kind of a perfect little thing,” Dunn said in between his pregame warmups in the batting cage Friday, about an hour before the tournament was canceled. “It’s almost like a pre-college team where we live and breathe baseball all summer long. I love it.”
Dunn’s journey in baseball has included a hodgepodge of teams and mascots. He started playing for the Eureka Little League team in his town of about 1,000 people through fifth grade. Then it was with the local Babe Ruth team in sixth grade. But that was canceled so he moved on to the local Legion team for the rest of his time before high school.
That Legion team was canceled his freshman year of high school, so he played with the local Babe Ruth team that had returned. He also played with the Glacier Babe Ruth team that summer, driving 70 minutes there and 70 minutes back four times a week for practice. Then he moved on to the Montana Regulators, a travel team in Kalispell, his sophomore year.
Dunn also played with Montana Baseball, a collection of the top baseball players in the state. They’d travel to other states to play in tournaments in search of competition and exposure.
“It’s been new coaches, new teams, everything like that,” Dunn said. “It’s just kind of how it’s been my whole entire life. I’ve been traveling a lot. But that’s because I love baseball.”
A breakthrough came when Dunn went to Cary, North Carolina, for the USA Baseball tryouts between his sophomore and junior years. Spokane Crew manager Shawn Henry was there, liked what he saw and offered him the chance to join his club team. Dunn accepted, seeing a better opportunity to land a spot in college.
Henry noted that of the kids who play through their senior year with the Crew, 97% of them have gone on to play in college. This year’s team has seven 2020 graduates going to play in college, including one who’s heading to the Oregon Ducks.
It’s not just Dunn who’s traveled far. Kids have come from seven states to play for the Crew, Henry said. That recently included another Montanan in Hot Springs’ Trevor Paro, a 10-time all-state selection in track, basketball and football who went on to play baseball for Lower Columbia College before he signed to play with Marshall last July.
For Dunn, his next step at Yakima Valley College came when the Yaks coach Kyle Krustangel saw him play in a tournament in Yakima with the Crew. He’s the second kid from his family to go on to play in college, following his brother James, who played baseball at Dickinson State before the program was disbanded.
“Being hours away from Eureka is not that big of a deal if it means I’m going somewhere to play college baseball,” Dunn said. “It was just kind of eye-opening to realize that Shawn was pretty much guaranteeing me a spot at a college and guaranteeing college coaches are going to be at our games watching our games and tournaments. You don’t necessarily get that as much over here in Montana with the Legion A tournaments that we would be going to up in Eureka.”
The Crew normally play their 60-game season from Memorial Day through Aug. 1, then travel for individual showcases and play about another 60 games in the fall and winter. They typically travel across the western United States, visiting Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, Arizona and Nevada each season.
Dunn played with the Crew this past fall as much as possible while also excelling in football at Eureka, where he was part of three State B championships in 2016, 2017 and 2019. He was the quarterback his final two years and scored three touchdowns while grabbing two interceptions in the state title game this past fall against Manhattan to cap an undefeated season.
Playing with the Crew in the fall meant Dunn would play his Friday night football game and then drive or fly that night or early Saturday to wherever Spokane was playing that weekend. It’s a commitment that’s blown away Henry.
“The kid’s a freak,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s all I can say. There’s just not a lot of kids like him around. There’s a different motor in that kid.”
Dunn also won a State B team wrestling championship as a freshman and broke through with an individual state wrestling crown as a senior, winning the State B/C 152-pound title. He had finished third as a junior, second as a sophomore and fourth as a freshman.
His leadership qualities he’s displayed through sports have jumped off the page to Henry in his time getting to know Dunn.
“He’s a high-energy leader,” Henry said. “I think that’s the biggest thing because he’s a special kid when it comes to that. He’s a good player, but the leading side is his biggest attribute. He’s a guy you want in the dugout.”
Dunn fell in love with baseball as a kid, catching the bug from his father, Chad Dunn. He’s even gone by his middle name of Hank — his dad’s favorite baseball player is Hank Aaron, he said — instead of his first name of Thomas. They’d watch games and dissect things pitch by pitch to discuss why major leaguers were doing things the way they did.
His father made the drive to Missoula on Friday to watch him play but arrived just minutes after it was announced the Missoula City-County Health Department canceled the tournament. It would’ve been his father’s first time watching him play for the Crew, but he’s now 0 for 3, having the game be canceled the three times he’s traveled to see him. His mom, Heather Dunn, has gotten to see him play for the Crew just twice.
That’s because his parents, both teachers, are working summer jobs — Chad at a golf course and Heather at a restaurant — to help pay for Hank to play in Spokane, where he lives with his grandfather.
On the field, Henry has been impressed with Dunn’s bat and instinctive baserunning. He’s also seen the fielding come along after feeling Dunn came in needing to improve there the most in terms of taking better routes to the ball and getting a glove on the ball.
Dunn is a middle infielder who’s rotated between second base, shortstop and third base because the Crew have three players good enough to play shortstop, Henry noted. He expects to play either second base, shortstop or third base in college.
Henry could see him landing at either shortstop or third base because of his speed to track down balls and his “above-average” arm strength to routinely make those long throws. The 5-foot-1, 175-pound Dunn has even noticed himself get stronger in Spokane because he’s able to work out with a trainer, something not as readily available in Eureka.
“He can get to everything,” Henry said. “He’s kind of borderline nuts. He’ll go into any wall. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to go make plays. He’s a bulldog with that. He’s just a tough kid. He’ll take a ball off the forehead if he has to. He’s going to knock it down and throw ‘em out.”
In college, Dunn is hoping to study athletic training or physical therapy, an interest he developed from being around sports his entire life. He’s already been around the country playing baseball, and who knows where he ends up next after a year or two in community college.
Henry has an idea. He expects to see Dunn playing at the Division I level one day.
“He just has different gears than most kids,” Henry said. “He competes, and that’s his biggest thing is he will go after anybody and he doesn’t shy away from anything.
“He’s going to be fun to watch over the next couple years because not a lot of people know about him, but after this year at Yakima, everybody’s going to know his name.”