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Chemeketa baseball: Reaching the next level

Chemeketa baseball: Reaching the next level

By Noah Westerhuis

It’s early September, 5 A.M. on a Monday morning.

It’s still dark outside, fog hovering above the field like a graveyard. The freshmen players are getting their first taste of the dedication and commitment that is college baseball.

The transition from high school baseball to college ball has just begun.

Is it even reasonable to compare high school baseball to college baseball?

Demetre Kokoris, Chemeketa’s pitching coach, says, “Some high school leagues can compare from a competitive aspect; but from a dedication and sacrifice stand point – not even close. Not only do freshman have new responsibilities dealing with life and school, but they have to adjust to the almost daily grind that college baseball requires to be competitive.”

Kokoris considers the question awhile longer before he adds, with a laugh, “Freshman come into longer practices, a bigger commitment to the weight room, harder conditioning, academics, and commitments, and have no extended time off.”

The players see it right away.

Freshman pitcher Brock Koone says, “The transition from high school to college is intimidating. I had to meet new people,

play for coaches I hardly knew, and fight with 60 ball players just to have a shot at making the 25-man roster. How am I supposed to stand out in odds like that?

“And now I’m talking about one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced. I made a spot on the team, and the transition period isn’t even over. Season starts in only a few weeks, and I have no clue what to expect the competition to be like, or what level of play I’m expected to play at.”

The Storm baseball team starts its season on an early morning at the beginning of September each year and continues working six days a week for eight months. The grind includes practices, conditioning, weight training, games, scrimmages, and mental skills.

All of this hard work leads to 44 scheduled games and ultimately requires a top-four position in the standings to be able to go to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges tournament each year.

For the ball players, it all boils down to time spent and hard work, and to handling new challenges.

Sophomore pitcher Brian Middleton says, “The transition from high school wasn’t very easy as a freshman.

“I came here from Douglas High School, which is a small 4A school in Winston, Oregon. I came into my freshman year looking to play baseball, and I find out that most the kids trying out are 5A and 6A players in high school, and many are All-League and All-State guys. It was intimidating for a small town baseball guy like me.”

Middleton has become a highly respected leader of the Chemeketa Storm who has taken many freshmen under his wing to help the transition, providing any push or advice that is needed.

What his best piece of advice to the new team members? “Whenever you have a question or are feeling overwhelmed, come find me or any other sophomore and ask questions,” he says. He recalls that, for himself, the best thing he did when he arrived at Chemeketa was finding someone who had been in his

position and then just sitting down and talking.
Whether it was learning how to better manage his time, or

trying to figure out what the heck was going on, he says he soon learned that talking and asking questions helped him make a

smooth transition to the college game.
“My go-to guy as a freshman was last year’s sophomore pitcher,

Seth Heckal,” he says.
The alarm blasts the quiet morning at 5 a.m. – time to lift. Four days a week with early rise, before the sun makes an

appearance, the team is getting bigger, faster, stronger.
On this day, Middleton is excited.
“I love waking up before the break of day to go lift,” he says.

“Sure, it’s hard to do day after day. But it is the little things, like waking up early to lift, that are going to make me and my team successful.”

Four of the six practice days a week are started in the same way.

After the burning of the early morning weights comes an hour-long team practice and conditioning. With sweat dripping and exhaustion setting in, the stress of expectations often weighs on the first-year players.

Pitcher Troy Benton says, “High school baseball seems time- consuming and hard at times, but college baseball demands way more commitment and time to stay competitive. Your goals from high school become a thing of the past.

“College baseball success is only delivered with an entire team being bought in. In high school, you focus on doing well enough to get noticed by a college coach. In college, your focus shifts to your team as a whole. Individual success can only take a team so far. An entire team must have success to make your eight months of blood, sweat, tears, stress, and devotion worthwhile.”

And what happens next, after college? How long can Chemeketa’s players continue to play baseball? What are the chances of playing beyond college?

Benton considers the prospect.

“After college ball, there is only one step higher to go: professional baseball. The odds of making it there are slim. That means your days of playing can end without warning. That’s why I am taking this opportunity that has been presented to me and never taking baseball for granted.”

Kokoris sums it all up with a punch line.

“High school is dealing with baseball; college is dealing with life,” he says.

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