His name is Cody, but most know him as Bubba.
Those who follow baseball on the Kenai Peninsula know that he’s been an integral part of the high school and American Legion programs for years, emerging from the shadows of former peninsula greats to stake a claim as memorable catcher for the Soldotna Stars and Post 20 Twins.
Cody “Bubba” Quelland grew up in Soldotna playing a variety of sports, but none as dear to his heart as America’s pastime.
But his time is almost up. On June 28, Quelland will call it quits on his Legion career and head to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. The 18-year-old plans to play a league doubleheader with the Twins against Ketchikan and Service, then will board a plane out of Anchorage to his new life in military school.
And he won’t be arriving at just any school. West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the country, having begun as a fortified site on the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War. It has been held by the Army since January 1778.
The academy was established at the site in 1802, which makes it the oldest military school in the U.S., something that Quelland has come to revere the more he’s learned about it.
“It’s something that I’ve thought about, something that will hit me more as I attend school there and learn more of the history of the school and people that have been there,” he said.
Quelland said he hopes to live up to the military code of duty, honor, country, when he arrives there on July 2 for basic training. It’s something his family has lived up to for generations, going as far back as World War I.
But for now, he plans to enjoy the final week of his Legion career.
And the nickname? Quelland says there’s really no story to “Bubba,” other than it likely derived from a childhood stuffed toy with the same name and his family stuck him with it.
“I never minded it,” Quelland says.
His family’s long history in the military goes back to his grandfather and includes two uncles, his father and older brother, David John Quelland. Cody is the youngest of six siblings.
“It’s long and decorated,” explained Robb Quelland, Cody’s father and coach in the high school and Legion programs. Robb joined the Air Force at a younger age and spent a year in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 before returning home to become a Soldotna police officer.
Quelland said his son making the decision to challenge himself with the rigors of military school made him a proud father.
“This is a dedication for service and country for him,” Robb said. “He’s passed up other opportunities to play in college at other schools.”
Cody’s academics sure didn’t make it hard for West Point to accept him. Quelland graduated from SoHi this spring with a sparkling 4.2 GPA, and said he is considering an engineering major as his area of study. Quelland will also be playing for the West Point baseball team.
The biggest hurdle for Quelland was gaining a nomination from one of Alaska’s three political representatives — Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young.
Once he had his recommendation, Quelland said his path was set.
“It’s just a huge honor,” Cody said. “Half of the time, I feel like I can’t comprehend it. It’s something I have to convince myself happened, like it’ll be like a camp.”
The family will be packing up after next Thursday’s twin bill and will take off to New York, where they will catch a major league game at Yankee Stadium when the Boston Red Sox get to town. The Yankees have always been a favorite team of Robb’s.
Quelland said his son’s attitude toward the game helped him become the team leader he is today.
“He’s a quiet leader, and he knew how to play from the bench,” Robb said. “I can’t say more for a player that plays from the bench. When his time is called, he steps in.”
Quelland’s journey to West Point was helped by his love of baseball.
Growing up and participating in the usual youth programs at the Little League level, Quelland quickly developed an eye for the sport.
As a catcher, Quelland’s job is paramount to the success of the team. A catcher is required to keep a sturdy post behind the plate, communicate effectively with the pitcher and direct the entire team, like a maestro.
“It definitely puts you in a leadership role, whether you’re prepared for it or not,” Quelland explained. “I’ve had to have a bird’s-eye view of the field. All good catchers need good trust with their pitchers, and trust with players, because you’re having them rely on you and trust in you.”
Quelland matured under the guidance of some talented catchers in the SoHi and Legion Twins programs, namely 2016 graduate Kenny Griffin. Quelland said Griffin became a good friend and a great teammate from which to learn.
“I could look up to him and learn a lot of things from him,” Quelland said. “It’s nice to have something to strive for, and just having that person, that’s the level I needed to get to. It’s nice to becoming a better baseball player.”
The mentorship and friendship worked well for Quelland, who entered the Twins program at a younger age than most at 13. As a ball boy, Quelland arrived on a Twins team fresh off a state Legion championship in 2012, which SoHi catcher Shane Miller was part of.
The 2012 champs featured a slew of talented kids who displayed strong work ethics and leadership qualities, Robb said, a list that included Miller, Hector Rivera, Jake Darrow and Tommy Bowe.
“They were the legends of Legion,” Robb said.
Miller gave way to Griffin, who ultimately gave way to Quelland, who became a four-year varsity player for the Stars high school squad. Quelland took over left field and second base as a freshman, then began taking on more of a catching role his sophomore year before being thrust into the lead role as a junior.
In 2016, the Twins again won the state Legion title, this time with Quelland behind the plate as starting catcher.
Quelland said while the 2016 state crown was one of the high points of his career in Alaska, a bigger moment came the following spring when he caught a no-hitter from SoHi pitcher Matthew Daugherty.
“That one definitely stands out,” he said.
As a junior who was getting some major playing time as a regular starter, Quelland said his confidence took a major lift that day as he and Daugherty managed to team up on a talented Kenai Central squad.
“We were just talking between innings, and it was the first game I felt like I was getting good at catcher,” he said. “I’d call pitches he was throwing, we were working the curveball and the slider.
“He finally trusted me that game.”
Quelland said when it came time to face one of Kenai’s best hitters Paul Steffensen late in the game with the no-no on the line, the topic of intentionally walking the Kardinal slugger came up, but Quelland and Daugherty decided to throw to him.
Steffensen was playing as reigning MVP of the state Legion tourney from the previous summer — and has since gone on to become one of the hottest hitters in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference — and with his final at-bat coming in the top of the seventh, Daugherty and Quelland both knew Steffensen would be swinging for the fences.
“I had to convince him to throw at him and get him out,” Quelland said.
The move worked as Steffensen popped out for the second out of the inning, and the Stars walked away with the win and Daugherty’s carefully crafted no-no.
Quelland said he wouldn’t be where he is today if not for competing in multiple sports. As part of the super successful Soldotna football program, Quelland has taken additional leadership qualities under some high-quality coaches.
Head football coach Galen Brantley Jr. and assistants Eric Pomerleau and Phil Leck have been paramount in Quelland’s maturity, leading the way with the “Big team, little me” mantra the team uses. It’s led to an Alaska state record 59-game win streak.
“They’re just a great program, and being able to be on that team, it really brought us all together,” Quelland said. “Especially in the later years, we started to worry about the streak, but the coaches didn’t. They just told us to rely on each other.”
With his time with the Twins program dwindling, Quelland said he hopes to go out on a high note. His father said he already has.
“It just shows his dedication to the program,” Robb said. “Most kids don’t have that responsibility of playing with only have a month left of ‘freedom,’ but he realized how important this is and felt obligated to be here and guide this team for any time available.”