By Ray Hamill — After a stellar playing career at McKinleyville High, senior Cameron Saso is taking his talents to one of the top community college teams in the state, committing this week to play baseball at Santa Rosa JC.
The standout shortstop and pitcher, who was Most Valuable Pitcher of the Big 5 as a junior, says he is looking forward to the challenge and hopes this is just the next step on a far longer journey.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing Major League Baseball,” he said. “I’m just trying to get there.”
That, in part, is why he choose Santa Rosa, the No. 1 community college team in the state this spring and a competitive program that sends a lot of players on to four-year schools.
Sasa has been considering the Bear Cubs for some time, after visiting earlier in the year and immediately taking to the program and the school.
“They have a really good program with a good reputation for moving guys on and being competitive year to year,” Saso said. “Santa Rosa gives me that opportunity.”
Mack head coach Scott St. John is confident Saso has what it takes to have an impact at the next level.
“I have no doubt in my mind he will succeed there,” St. John said. “He’s going to play for a really great program and he knows the challenges that go with that.”
The senior star played an integral part in leading McKinleyville to a Big 5 championship last spring, and a playoff run that saw the Panthers reach the NCS championship game.
And St. John says he recognized Saso’s talents immediately after taking over as the Panthers head coach three years ago.
“My first year as coach at McKinleyville, his sophomore year, after about two practices I walked up to him and told him you’re the shortstop of this program for the next three years, start acting like it,” the coach said. “And he did.”
Saso quickly backed that belief in him and was named all-league that season.
St. John also believes Saso has what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level for several reasons.
“Along with his obvious athletic ability, he’s supremely confident,” the coach said. “And he’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever been around.”
Saso follows in the footsteps of a couple of former H-DNL players to recently play for the Bear Cubs — Eureka’s Aidan Morris and Fortuna’s Daniel Teasley — and says he sees his longterm future at shortstop rather than on the mound, although he expects to play both at Santa Rosa.
“I’m going to be a shortstop that can pitch, just because that gives me more options (for a four-year program),” he said. “But ultimately I want to end up at shortstop.”
The Mack senior is well aware it will be a big step up from the Big 5, but is looking forward to the challenge and says he’s willing to be patient.
“They red shirt a lot of guys,” he said. “Their league obviously is very competitive and there is the possibility I will red shirt, and it’s going to be a good thing if I do or if I don’t.”
As for what he’ll remember most from his playing time at McKinleyville, Saso says one run stands out.
“Definitely our NCS run last year,” he said. “Even though we came up short (in the championship), it was by far the most fun I had in all four years of high school. It was just a really good team with great team chemistry.”
Saso, who also has impressed the past couple of summers with the Humboldt Eagles, thanked his coaches for helping set up the connection with Santa Rosa and for preparing him to make the jump.
“One thing they always preach is that they’re teaching more than just the game,” he said of St. John and his staff. “They’re teaching life. They’re teaching responsibility and accountability, and that’s one thing that will allow the program to grow.”
Saso intends on pursuing a double major in Spanish Communication and Business Administration.