Trip to Series gives Firestorm coaches a detour through memory lane

May 29—Three days before the start of the 2024 Avista NAIA World Series, Arizona Christian coach Joe McDonald pulled over to the side of the road exactly 1 mile from Harris Field.

The sixth-year Firestorm skipper ran the mile from where the car pulled over to the site of the World Series, where Arizona Christian would make its first appearance in program history.

Those 5,280 feet represented the final one of 1,196 miles — the distance from the Firestorm's campus in Glendale, Ariz., to Harris Field — McDonald has ran in increments over the last four years.

"There was just a lot of good motivation to do that," McDonald said. "There was a lot of purpose to the whole entire run. But it meant a lot more than me just running from Glendale to Lewiston. To get that last mile in, it was kind of an emotional run because I knew that meant our school, our team, our guys get to experience what a lot say is the greatest show on dirt."

Joe McDonald started to check off those miles after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the World Series in 2020. He was confident that was the year Arizona Christian would make the dance for the first time, but the pandemic nixed the chance. Since then, McDonald started checking off those 1,000-plus miles, saving the last one for when the Firestorm made the Series.

"My feet didn't like me, but it was fulfilling," McDonald said.

It may be the Firestorm's first Series berth, but it is not the first time McDonald, or one of his assistant coaches, have been in Lewiston.

For those who've been around long enough to see the long-defunct University of Idaho baseball team, the name "McDonald," might seem familiar.

McDonald's father, Monte McDonald, was born in Lewiston and played catcher for the Vandal baseball team in the late 1960s. Joe McDonald's two older brothers were born in Moscow. His uncle, Dennis, lives in Clarkston.

Monte McDonald was drafted by the Yankees but chose not to sign because of an injury. He eventually became a teacher and moved to Bend, Ore., where he died Oct. 29, 1992, at age 44.

"It's very good to be at a place where (my father) was born," Joe McDonald said. "My two older brothers were born in Moscow. So we took a trip down memory lane on the off day (Sunday). I took my mom by the hospital where my brothers were born. ... It's a good trip down memory lane with ties to the family."

Joe McDonald stayed in the Pacific Northwest for a long time. He played baseball at Western Oregon before graduating in 1998. After wrapping up his playing career, McDonald coached as the head assistant at his alma mater for a couple of years after graduating. When McDonald left, he continued his coaching career in a manner that was defined by "firsts."

McDonald started a baseball team in 2005 at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, Ariz. In his 13 years coaching the fledgling program, it made the state playoffs eight times and set the Arizona state record in hits with 485 in 2010. The next "first" McDonald achieved was leading the Firestorm to their first World Series in program history. The spot at the dance came in the team's third attempt in the NAIA Opening Round — two of those trips were under McDonald.

But McDonald is not the only coach with area ties that helped Arizona Christian to its first World Series.

Mike Kinkade, an assistant who specializes in hitting and catching on the Firestorm's staff, is another name very familiar for those with their fingers on the pulse of local college baseball.

Kinkade played for Washington State from 1992-1995 and was a third-team All-American for the Cougars in 1994.

"(The team) getting a chance to play here is really cool," Kinkade said. "Obviously with the history and what they got here. ... That was awesome. Lewiston is known for the World Series so having a chance to come back is a great experience."

Kinkade parlayed his collegiate success into an almost decade-long professional baseball career in the major leagues and in the Nippon Professional League in Japan. McDonald was also a member of the United States' 2000 Sydney Olympics team that won the gold medal.

Kinkade is no stranger to Harris Field. During his playing days, Washington State and Lewis-Clark State were common opponents with each other.

"We played, I think, four times a year," Kinkade said. "And it was always great playing them. They had a great team and a great tradition. ... We always looked forward to it and we always knew they were going to be good games. ... And coaching against them however many years, it's the same thing. They still play hard, they still play tough."

Kinkade got into coaching and joined the Seattle Mariners staff in 2011 and continued in that role until 2014. Kinkade, who at that point had over two decades of college and professional baseball experience between his coaching and playing days, took some time off to spend time with his family.

Kinkade got back into coaching in 2019 as an assistant with CSU Bakersfield but the COVID-19 pandemic rolled around and the former WSU All-American chose to look for coaching opportunities elsewhere.

After conversations with Matt Magill, a pitching coach on the Arizona Christian staff, Kinkade joined the Firestorm before the 2024 season and helped an offense that averaged 8.5 runs in 10 postseason games.

Arizona Christian spent the better part of two weeks at Harris Field from the Lewiston Bracket of the Opening Round to the World Series. Over that time, McDonald and Kinkade have seen and heard from friends, former teammates and family still in the Valley or who were visiting.

The Firestorm's stay in the Series ended Tuesday after an 8-1 loss to Golden State Athletic Conference foes Hope International, but Arizona Christian made a strong impression in its Series debut with several record-breaking or tying performances.

The Firestorm's time in the World Series might have come to an end. But they have etched their names into a long lineage of baseball in the area, joining the names "McDonald" and "Kinkade."

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.