MLL Press Box is collecting stories from players in Major League Lacrosse to learn how they started playing the game in our series titled: Introduction to the Game. These first-person narratives offer glimpses into how the top players in the world made it to the pinnacle of their sport and how they fell in love with the game.
Peter Baum's résumé looks like something you would expect from an MLL player at first glance. He attended Colgate University in New York, where he won the Tewaaraton Award, and was a first-overall draft pick of the Ohio Machine. It's not until you see "Hometown: Portland, OR" that you realize Baum took an unusual path to the highest level of lacrosse. This is his story of how he started playing the game in an untraditional market and how he and his friends altered the culture surrounding the sport in the Portland area.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon.
I started playing organized sports in first grade and hockey was my big first love.
Lacrosse was in its infancy in Portland, for sure. You couldn’t start playing until sixth grade. I knew what it was late in elementary school because my dad had played at Colgate. My dad’s from Smithtown on Long Island. So, I was at least aware of what lacrosse was.
When sixth grade finally rolled around, I decided to give it a try.
My dad was obviously excited about that. I got my first stick in sixth grade. I think it was a Brine M1 with a traditional pocket – I didn’t know anything about lacrosse at the time, but I thought it was a cool stick.
So, I started playing in middle school and just kept playing after that. Contrary to what you might think, It was pretty well organized, actually. The different high school programs ran their feeder middle school programs from the top down, so I played for the Lincoln High School program, but attended West Sylvan Middle School.
"I didn't pioneer lacrosse in the state of Oregon, by any means."
There were probably ten other similar programs in the state, so we kind of played the same teams over and over.
Boys’ lacrosse isn’t a varsity sport in Oregon, which doesn’t really speak to the level of commitment or interest from the student body or from the state in general. Certainly, for a lot of high schools it’s among the top three sports in terms of popularity – and more so now than when I was there – but it’s becoming a big deal.
I didn't pioneer lacrosse in the state of Oregon, by any means. I was far from the first person to play high school lacrosse there, and I was also not the first person to play Division I college lacrosse from Oregon.
Though it might have made for a good story, it’s not like I was out there playing wall ball against trees or something. Portland area youth lacrosse was actually pretty institutionalized. Folks on my team now, we have all sorts of conversations on the ole MLL bus riding to practice in Columbus. Sometimes people ask questions about what it was like playing out there at that time. The short answer is we knew the kids playing in Baltimore or Long Island were better than us, but that didn't stop us from taking it very seriously.
It was a big deal for me as a senior to be named an Under Armour All-American and be in Inside Lacrosse’s top 100 recruits and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, I lost the state championship my senior year. There were other good teams and other good players. It wasn’t like I was playing against pylons or something. I'm grateful that there were good players that made competing for a state championship a major challenge.
My high school, Lincoln High School, has had the same head coach since the inception of the program through now, which is pretty cool. A guy named Will Harris, who has done a great job with that program.
Along with experienced coaching, the reason I got so good in high school was that I had some great mentors. Two guys, in particular, in the grade above me at my school really helped shape me as a player. One of those guys is Patrick Rogers, who played at Denver. And then Aaron Prosser, who played at Drexel and has actually been involved with the Denver Outlaws franchise a little bit. Those two guys have been so significant to me as a lacrosse player. They were much better than I was when I was a freshman and kind of showed me the way as I got more into the sport. We changed the way Oregonians approached lacrosse because we focused on getting better as individuals before bringing that experience to our team. Together, we really made lacrosse an all-consuming priority.
We would drag a lacrosse goal into a tennis court so we wouldn’t lose balls and we would just be out there shooting all day. We would bring a boom box out, and that was it. Simple repetition.
The boom box, the tennis court…that’s where all the magic happened.
I remember we had a family joke that whenever someone was looking for me, it wasn't too tough to guess where I was. I was pretty much exclusively down at the park shooting with those two guys. For the three of us, that was a big deal. I couldn’t possibly talk about my success without mentioning those guys, because they showed me that it was possible to focus on lacrosse as a main sport, play it a high level and play it in college. So, hats off to those guys.
As I look at the western growth now, I think having an MLL team on the West Coast would be great. Obviously, Denver does really well and has for a long time.
But certainly, lacrosse has grown on the West Coast to the point where I think you’re starting to see where it might be feasible to bring a team back. I think the Riptide and the Dragons were probable a little bit ahead of their time. It was cool to have them there, for sure. I got to see games for both franchises as a young guy growing up. But, it was just too soon.
Now, if you were to have a team in Orange County that could draw from San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and that whole area, I think that would be a good fit. And then the Bay Area, bringing kids in from Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose. I think it would be possible to do it. It would be great. I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the game out there.
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