By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Being a part of the Willamette Valley Men’s Baseball League 16-and-over league this past Summer was amazing. There was a sense of a sandlot-style of play at Holland Youth Park described West Salem’s Ben Nagle.
It was also a good learning experience too, he said, catching college athletes like Cameron Hagan, Braden Allison and the occasional inning or two by Noah Juarez. Hagan recently signed with Hawaii while Allison and Juarez are with Chemeketa Community College.
Blake Arritola also donned his former High School uniform for a few games, all helped Nagel and the current crop of West Salem athlete’s learn from players from the next level. For Nagle, who caught the bulk of the summer, being able to catch someone like Hagan was a good learning experience on catching at the next level.
“I learned a lot and being able to catch him well and steal tons of strikes for him was awesome and definitely gives me confidence for next season,” Nagle said. “Going from receiving 90 four inches off the plate or three inches off the dirt being able to frame it to the black or put it in the zone will make 80s a lot easier.”
Efficiency is huge for a catcher. Nagle got a lot of work at his craft through the Summer League as he made up for a lost Junior Season. From framing pitches from Hagan to Brody McMullen and Kyle Kronenburg, blocking any pitches to popping up for a throw-out attempt; practicing that efficiency helped Nagle entering his Senior year.
“Efficiency is definitely the biggest thing. Having no unnecessary movements and being able to react to the ball faster out of the hand will definitely come in handy with all the pitchers we use next season,” Nagle said. “I’ve really been focusing on improving strength so I can just be as relaxed as possible and not even have to think about throwing hard or swinging a little harder. I’ve been working harder than ever in the weight room raising my squat and deadlift to 415 (pounds) and 435 respectively.
“As a catcher receiving and blocking are my biggest strengths and I’ve been catching bullpens for guys ranging from sophomore pitchers to seniors in college in order to be as good as I can. I am consistently long tossing and working on throw downs as well.”
Nagle has been mentally and physically been preparing for a season in hopes to get a crack at some Varsity time with the Titans during the six-week Spring season this March and April. Joking he’ll go now if they were able. The experience also playing against the Sprague’s, Central’s, the Valley Baseball Club (with South Salem, McNary and Albany kids) and the Stayton Bandits (Single-A American Legion team with Stayton, Cascade and Regis kids), boosted his confidence and helped him work harder for his goals.
“I think that experience made me work even harder to be able to prove I should have been that in my guy junior season. But we all know how that turned out so I’ve played on teams even outside of west Salem facing varsity guys from other teams,” Nagle said. “I did really well so I feel like all of what’s happened since my sophomore year has just been leading up to this year.”
Following the completion of the WVMBL summer league, Nagle jumped into the 7-on-7 league that West Salem joined. Sending two squads to the Oregon 7’s league put on by the Island Boy Camp over the Fall months.
As weird as it was not to be playing with pads and without lineman flying around them, it was still beneficial to get their timing and work on their pass coverage for when they do get back to it in February.
“During the off season us skills and secondary guys have been working our asses off to get bigger, faster, and stronger. And the 7 on 7 thing helped us get to use that speed in coverage and work on our ability to do that,” Nagle said, who’s a linebacker and running back. “When we get the line involved and they dominate on both sides of the ball they’ll open up opportunities for our offense and defense to make big plays and ultimately win a lot of ball games.
“I’m excited to see what they are going to do.”
The excitement is there for Nagle to finally get to play a season if it comes to fruition, starting with football then going straight to baseball back-to-back. As challenging as it will be, normally there would have been a rest period for Nagle to heal up in between football and baseball, he’s excited to get to it.
“Honestly I think going from football to baseball will actually be beneficial as long as us two way athletes stay healthy and injury free,” Nagle said. “I’ve never been more excited for a season in my life, and that goes for both of them. For me I’m mentally ready for both of them and I think I say that for a lot of guys that play both sports.
“Since we’ve been waiting for baseball to happen for a year. Physically I’m definitely ready for both, I’ve spent over a year physically preparing for varsity baseball and a year for football so I’m ready to go next week if we could.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald