‘Red Thunder’ & ‘White Lightning’
Appeal Sports Writer
They were known last year as “Red Thunder” and “White Cloud” and they rumbled across the Northern Nevada landscape like a maelstrom of hilarity and good cheer.
Although White Cloud has morphed into “White Lightning” this year, the rumbling continues, its epicenter a pair of hollow pits in the stomachs of the always hungry duo of pitcher David Eller and catcher Paul Cagle, who picked up their nicknames last season, according to Carson Senators baseball coach Steve Cook.
“We called David ‘Red Thunder’ because he’s Native American and we called Paulie ‘White Cloud’ because of his light skin-tone,” explains Cook, who adds the latter’s colorful handle has changed. “Now we call Cagle ‘White Lightning’ because of how fast he isn’t. He gets to first base in about 10 seconds.”
Call Eller, an 18-year-old senior, and Cagle, a 17-year-old junior, what you will, but as the saying goes, just don’t call them late for dinner…or breakfast, lunch or a post-practice meal.
Eller, whose bloodlines include Walker River Paiute, is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound eating and joke-cracking machine, and a couple weeks of weeks ago he and his partner in epicurean excess – that would be the 5-11, 225-pound Cagle – sat down at a local Pizza Hut to replenish themselves following a calorie-draining practice.
As the breadsticks and a couple of pizzas steadily disappear, the omnivorous battery mates hold palaver, taking swipes at each other and rehashing their favorite topic: food.
“You should have seen this guy,” Cagle says, puffing out his cheeks to illustrate what a younger Eller once looked like.
Eller, unmindful of Cagle’s jab, instead nods his head in agreement.
“We can eat for days,” Eller says, emphasizing the last word.
“He’s a little more picky, though,” Cagle allows.
“Anything you put in front of him? It’s gone,” says Eller, again stressing the last word. “We call him ‘TC’ for Trash Can. He’ll eat anything.”
Cagle looks serious now.
“No. It’s true,” he agrees.
“Whenever I go to his house, his family is fighting for food. He has two sisters [Loretta and Elizabeth], his dad [Paul Richard Cagle II – TC is Paul Richard Cagle III] and mom [Julene].”
Often mistaken for brothers, they finish off each other’s thoughts, as Cagle does this time.
“It’s always, ‘Who ate my chips? Who ate this, who ate that?'” Cagle says.
“No,” Eller clarifies, “it’s already gone.”
PARDON THE INTERRUPTION
We must now cut from this scene and switch over to Cook and CHS basketball coach Bruce Barnes, who contribute their thoughts on the pair.
“David’s moreso a clown than Paul,” Barnes says of his undersized but big-hearted post men, who routinely went up against taller players in their forward slots. “Paul’s the leader. David’s the leader when it comes to humor. He takes things with a grain of salt. He has no problem making fun of himself and others.
“It’s a weird relationship. It’s almost like they’re Siamese twins. They’re very good friends. They spend most of their time together. It’s always who can eat what, who can eat more – that’s one of the competitions they have. It’s one a coach doesn’t want to hear. They take pride in it.”
Cook says he has had his moments with Eller.
“A couple of time on the baseball field, David’s shown his personality. On an 0-2 pitch, a guy made a good hit. The kid crushed it, but we ran it down. I came out of the dugout and told David, ‘Our 0-2 pitches have to be better than that.’ I was fired up.
“He pointed at me and said, ‘I got you, dawg.’ I turned to my coaching staff and said, ‘Did he just say that?’ They had smiles on their faces, the dugout was giggling. He’s a different kind of kid. But when you put him on task, he’s a kid that works like crazy.”
THE NEW GENERATION
Fade back in to Pizza Hut, where Cagle and Eller turn their attention from food long enough to talk about how cool their coaches are and how both have made great strides in dealing with their players’ personalities.
“Barnes was yelling one practice,” Cagle recalls. “He wasn’t wearing his shoes because he was stomping his feet so hard.”
The logic here, Cagle says, is that Barnes would hurt his stocking feet if he stomped too hard. Behavior modification: a tool to be cool.
“He lightened up around us,” Eller says of Barnes. “We like to laugh.”
Cagle, who will likely play again for Barnes, qualifies that remark.
“When we play our best, he lightens up.”
The subject seamlessly moves on to Cook as the pair engages in a two-minds-as one running dialogue, beginning with Cagle.
“Baseball is like in between.”
“It’s a whole new situation,” adds Eller.
“Cookie knows we like having fun. It’s hard for him.”
“He lets us stay at ease, but if we don’t do it right…”
Whereas Barnes will discipline his players with “suicides” (wind sprints), Cook will break out the heavy metal – literally. He’ll make his players hold a large piece of rebar above their heads and force them to run up to 15 “poles” – not so merry sprints down the foul lines to the foul poles and back.
But what’s a coach to do when faced with the following dilemma.
“Last year, an umpire had a real tight strike zone,” Eller says. “This guy wasn’t giving me many calls. Cook comes out to the mound and goes, ‘Is he squeezing you?’ I said, ‘Nobody’s touching me! No one’s around me. Who could be squeezing me?’ I was dead serious. Who could touch me? I got crap for that for a while.”
Cook offered no poles, just perhaps a disbelieving stare.
ON WORK ETHIC
There’s more to Cagle and Eller than dueling breadsticks and pizza parties. Cook says both players have a shot at playing at the next level. Cagle is the team’s big bopper, a player of Ruthian outlines and solid production.
Prior to last week’s three-game series with South Tahoe, he was hitting .512 in Sierra League play (.481 for the season). Overall he had six homers, 38 runs batted in and 10 doubles. He also possessed an .835 slugging percentage and a .543 on-base percentage, with 66 total bases.
Eller was 4-1 on the year, with 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 26 innings pitched, with one complete game.
For the clown princes of the diamond, the conversation turns momentarily serious.
Eller said Cook has encouraged him to play for a junior college somewhere, but he is looking forward to getting on with working for a living. He said his mother, Gail, and his father, Howard – a retired member of the United States Marine Corps – have instilled in him a great work ethic.
“My dad was a hard worker and he always told me to be a hard-working person,” Eller says. “I went to Camp Pendleton in San Diego in my sophomore year and went through the Marine Corps Devil Pups boot camp. It taught me to be stronger. It pushed me past my limits.”
But don’t plan on Eller taking his personality on the road to the USMC. He says he is considering becoming a firefighter, although he leaves open the possibility of higher education and more baseball.
“My mom’s tough and she tried to show me how to be tough,” Eller says. “My older sister [Jenny] helped me out, too. My mom’s my biggest supporter. She’s always there at every game – baseball and basketball. She’s always trying to push me, to help me.”
Cagle attributes his work ethic to his father (who helped forge his son’s swing with long sessions of batting practice) and older brother, Rick Miller, a Douglas grad.
“It was crazy,” Eller says of the Cagles’ batting drills. “I went with him a couple of time to the park and he’d hit 500 balls off the tee. He’d have blisters on his hands he’d practice so hard. If he didn’t hit it right, his dad would throw the ball at him and make him run home.”
“He wanted me to compete at a high level,” Cagle says of his father. “Now that he’s got a new job, I miss it. I’m not going to lie, I miss it.”
Cagle said he got a surprise when his family told him about a recent newspaper article that said Western Nevada College was looking at him.
“I’m going to work really hard this summer and next year,” Cagle says. “I’d like to go to a D-I school. I’d like to stay on the West Coast. But I wouldn’t mind going anywhere.”
“Yeah. He’ll go to Yale or Stanford,” interjects Eller.
“He’s all straight A’s talking to you,” Cagle fires back. “He’s taking English IV, communications, basketball class…”
“Don’t hate, don’t hate,” Eller says.
“I really like pre-calculus,” Cagle says sincerely before Eller hops back in.
“He’ll drop out,” he says with a big laugh.
“It’s my favorite subject…”
GUYS JUST LIKE TO HAVE FUN
Even the best of friends can sometimes go too far. And when that happens…
“This guy gets mad and says, ‘You want to go outside and wrestle?'” Cagle says with a smile. “So we go outside and wrestle.”
“It’s a toss-up every time,” Eller says.
“Whoever makes the first mistake loses. Whoever gets on top first wins,” says Cagle.
“My mom yells at us and says, ‘You guys are getting too big for this,'” Eller says. “We’ll wrestle for about 15 minutes and she’ll scream, ‘Knock it off!’ She’ll pull out the mower and chases us. Good times.”
The pizzas and breadsticks are nothing more than a memory now, but that doesn’t prevent the closing conversation from reverting back to, you guessed it, food.
“We were in Las Vegas for basketball last year,” Eller says. “Me, Matt Rutledge and Cagle are on the strip and we go into McDonald’s. Cagle orders a sundae. We sit down. We’re watching people go by and Cagle’s talking to his girlfriend on the phone.
“You can tell he’s not listening to her. He’s looking at his sundae. He says, ‘I gotta go!’ He gets it down in three bites. He opens up a double cheeseburger and looks at it. I bet him and said, ‘You can’t get it down in two bites.’ He got it down in two bites.”
“He didn’t pay up,” Cagle adds before (almost) switching topics. “They kick us out of buffets because we eat so much.”
Cagle reflects a moment before speaking of Eller’s effect on him.
“When I first met this guy, people made fun of me because I was so quiet,” he says. “Now I smile all the time.”
• Contact Mike Houser at email@example.com or 881-1214.