Opinion

Playing Baseball with a Regal Name

Playing Baseball with a Regal Name

Playing Baseball with a Regal Name

Tuesday, August 8, 2006 | His name is Sequoyah Stonecipher, and the San Diego kid with the unique identity and uncommon baseball talent is one of the best high school players in the nation. A year from now he could be a high draft pick and a rich young man.

No, he wasn’t named for a California tree. That’s a question he often hears, never mind the difference in spelling.

Yes, he’s a surfer and his dad, Bill, owns Rocky’s, an Ocean Beach surf shop. But, no, Bill Stonecipher didn’t saddle his son with some off-the-wall surf-dog name.

“Sequoyah” has a much more regal history than any identity taken from Southern California beach culture.

His full name is Sequoyah Trueblood Stonecipher. He was named for his great grandfather on his mother’s side n Sequoyah Evonne Trueblood, a Choctaw and Chickashee Indian from Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas, Sequoyah is a familiar name for an historic figure. In the early 1800s, Sequoyah created the Cherokee syllabary and taught thousands of Native Americans to read and write their language.

“Everyday people ask me about my name,” said Stonecipher, whose father’s German surname coincidentally has an Indian ring to it. “I think it’s a cool name.”

I do too. And I think – if Stonecipher continues his rapid rise up baseball’s ladder toward pro opportunities – other people will increasingly ask him about Jim Thorpe, Louis Sockalexis and the use of Indian nicknames and mascots for American sports teams.

Sequoyah, an outfielder from Mission Bay High, and Nick Noonan, a Francis Parker shortstop, are two San Diegans named among the top 38 players in the nation for the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at noon on Saturday at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.

The Aflac game is for seniors-in-the fall and is baseball’s version of the McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball Game. You don’t get picked for the Aflac game unless you’re projected to have major league potential.

Thorpe played some major league baseball, although he’s better known as the 1912 Olympic decathlon champion and a Carlisle Indians football player. He was later stripped of his gold medal when it was learned he had played some semi-pro baseball, but upon presenting Thorpe with his gold medal, King Olav of Sweden told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Sockalexis batted .338 in 1897 for the then-Cleveland Spiders. In 1915, two years after his death, the Cleveland team renamed itself the Cleveland Indians. Years later, when the franchise first came under fire with charges of racism for using Indians as a nickname and a Chief Wahoo as a mascot, the club claimed it took the nickname to honor Sockalexis. Critics contend it’s a convenient story used by the team.

Ann Stonecipher, Sequoyah’s mother, was born in Oklahoma but moved to San Diego with her family when she was 12. She said her father is passionate about Native American history. He has taught her two boys – Sequoyah’s older brother is named for their father – about Indian culture. He has served on local and national Indian boards and participated in many conferences. Ann also took the boys to powwows on Barona land when they were younger.

But Ann said her father doesn’t have strong feelings either way concerning Indian mascots and nicknames. He concerns himself with other Indian issues. That attitude has been passed down to his daughter and from mother to her son.

Sequoyah would like to be someday questioned on these subjects, because that would mean he made it to the major leagues.

“There haven’t been too many Native Americans who have played in the major leagues,” he said. “I think it would be an honor for me.”

Last summer Stonecipher, who doesn’t turn 17 until Nov. 19 of his senior year, made the USA Youth National Team for players 16-and-younger. The Americans brought home a silver medal from the World Youth Championships in Monterrey, Mexico.

This summer Stonecipher also made the cut at tryouts for the USA Baseball Junior National Team that will play in the World Junior Championships in Cuba in September. Remember, he’s four months shy of his 17th birthday while competing against players who have already turned 18.

Stonecipher already gave the University of San Diego an oral commitment, and his young age suggests he’s better off spending time in college than in a rookie league with some not-too-bright teammates in the hinterlands.

Dennis Pugh, who coached at Mission Bay 27 years before leaving for Cal State San Marcos next year, is the head coach of the Aflac West team. Pugh has coached Stonecipher, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, on the Mission Bay varsity the past three years.

“Stoney has a baseball body with wide shoulders,” Pugh said. “He has a very athletic body that is going to fill out. He’s got an arm and he can hit for power. He probably had more outfield assists than any player I’ve ever had. He not only has a strong throwing arm, he’s accurate.”

Newspaper writers look for the easy angle and TV reporters for a quick sound bite, but I don’t think he’s the type to feel pressure from attention. When he tires of baseball he lets off steam by hitting the waves.

“You never know which kids are going to make it to the majors,” said Pugh, who has had his fair share of players drafted. “But he has other interests, so he’s not going to burn out on baseball.”

His friends call him Stoney or Q. Mom, of course, calls him Sequoyah.

The more he masters the game of baseball, the more his name will force him to examine the history of Native Americans in sports. History’s Sequoyah would approve.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. Send a letter to the editor.

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