By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Here’s an interesting fact. Pretty astounding thinking about it. West Salem’s Cameron Hagan and Blake Arritola have been playing together for 15 years, dating back to their days on the Little League sandlots living the baseball dream.
They’ve played High School baseball team together with the Titans and followed that up with the last two years at Chemeketa Community College where they helped the Storm to a NWAC East Regional appearance in 2019 and a 9-3 start to the Spring of 2020 before the Coronavirus pandemic had set-in back in March.
“Blake and I have been playing together since little league. It’s super cool that him and I got to play for almost 15 years straight together. He is definitely one of my closest friends and I’m glad he decided to play at Chemeketa too, it was a lot easier to settle in since I had a good friend on the team,” said Hagan.
For Arritola, his ball-hawking ability was known in the outfield, but his time at Chemeketa gave him an opportunity for the 2018 West Salem-grad an opportunity to prove himself to four-year coaches coming out of High School.
Proved himself with his fellow teammates doing the same thing. Wanting to prove they belong at the college level of baseball. Thankful for the opportunity that Junior College baseball had gave to him entering the next chapter of his playing career at University of Jamestown in North Dakota.
“Chemeketa provided a place for me to continue playing and allowed for me to prove I was worthy of playing baseball at the college level. I don’t feel like anything was given to me, I worked harder and continued to grow at Chemeketa to put myself in a spot for a scholarship at a four-year like Jamestown,” Arritola said. “The coaches and teammates I had last year and this year are all people that were in the same spot as me, they’re talented people that got overlooked.
“Our teammates pushed each other every day since our first meeting in September. In high school I barely knew what JUCO ball was, but once I was on the team, I was glad juco found me because it meant I was one step closer to a bigger school and I think that’s what really motivates me and everyone else that plays juco.”
Arritola played in 53 games with Chemeketa, driving in 30 RBI’s on 59 hits and stealing 26 bases on 32 attempts as he joins a University of Jamestown squad that went 18-5 in their shorten season and had reached the NAIA National tournament last Spring.
Hagan, who went 7-3 with 58 innings pitched and 62 strikeouts in 16 games with the Storm, will be traveling to Hawaii to play the University of Hawaii next season. The Rainbow Warriors were 11-6 when their season ended as the last two years with Chemeketa had helped change the mental game of Hagan entering this next chapter of his life.
“JuCo baseball can be a grind and there are really only good things that come from it. If you can’t embrace the grind, you will be separated from the others very early,” said Hagan. “The sophomores from last year helped me embrace the grind and realize how all of it can come together with hard work.
“I became more dedicated and hardworking, that mentality translated to the mound. Facing better competition used to fear me, because I was scared to fail. But I’ve learned since then that facing better hitters can only make me better. I have a long way to go and can improve in every aspect of my game.”
His mental approach continues to be the biggest goal said Hagan. In the meantime, he’s been bulking up to increase his velocity as well as working on his off-speed pitches, appreciating what Storm Head Coach JJ Mascolo has done in his development to this point.
“JJ also did a great job of chewing me out on sometimes, I never really had that in the past and it really forces you to get rid of an entitled mentality and work for everything you want from baseball, school, and life,” said Hagan.
With how this year ended wasn’t necessarily a bitter taste as much as a sour taste said Arritola. Seeing the squad hitting their stride after six months of hard work and sacrifice.
It’s hard to accept knowing you may never play with those guys again moving forward, including his longtime friend in Hagan who they’ve played Little League with, went to the State Playoffs with in High School and with the Dallas Post 20 Dirtbags to go alongside their time in a Storm uniform. But it is something he certainly won’t forget.
“Overall I’d say that two years at Chemeketa we’re some of the best times because of the guys I met and the lifelong friendships I created. The hardest part about it was playing our last games together and not knowing that was going to be it,” said Arritola.
“The way that things ended really puts the saying “never take things for granted” into perspective. Moving forward I don’t think I will ever take my teammates, coaches, fans and the game of baseball for granted because they can be there one day and gone the next.”
Joining Hagan and Arritola to commit to the next level include Dalton Renne (Hawaii-commit, pitcher), Connor Fajardo, (Eastern Oregon-commit, shortstop), Austin Brown (EOU-commit, pitcher), Austin Gerding (EOU-commit, outfielder), Chase Elliott (Linfield-commit, infielder).