By Ray Hamill — After spending last summer playing for the Nevada Griffons in Missouri, former McKinleyville Panther Cameron Saso is glad to be closer to home this year.
The 2020 Mack High graduate is one of six local players on this summer’s Humboldt Crabs roster and he has played a pivotal role for the team.
In fact, he’s played multiple pivotal roles.
“He’s become a really important two-way player for us,” Crabs manager Robin Guiver said of Saso, who has been a regular starter at shortstop and the team’s go-to closer. “We’ve pitched him in key situations. And he’s probably our best shortstop defensively all summer long. His pitching arm transfers over to the infield well.”
After helping Folsom Lake College reach the JC state championship series this past spring, Saso admits he is enjoying his time back in Humboldt this summer.
“I’m having a lot of fun playing at home and playing for the team I grew up watching,” he said. “There’s not a single place like it. Even playing in our state championship, there weren’t as many people who showed up at the games. It’s super exclusive.
“Making a play at shortstop and hearing the crowd, it makes it that much more fun.”
By his own admission, Saso would like his offensive numbers to be be better — he is batting .192 in 16 appearances — but Guiver believes he’s having a big impact in other ways and getting better at the plate.
“Offensively, he’s coming along,” the longtime manager said. “I think he wishes his numbers were better, but the last few games he’s been hitting the ball hard.
“When he’s up there, I feel we’ve got a chance to make something happen at the plate.”
On the mound, Saso has appeared in seven games and leads the team with three saves in three save opportunities, with an ERA of 3.68.
Saso has experienced the Arcata Ball Park before, leading the McKinleyville Panthers to a North Coast Section championship game appearance there as a junior in 2019.
And he has enjoyed plenty of success at almost every stop on his journey.
He led the Panthers to a Big 5 championship in 2019, before taking his talents to Folsom Lake and helping the Falcons to a second-place finish in state play this spring.
The Falcons ended up losing to Riverside in the championship, but getting there was an experience Saso won’t easily forget, especially a huge doubleheader sweep to reach the championship.
The Falcons won back-to-back elimination games over Palomar and Ohlone on the same day, both on walk-offs.
“I’ve never experienced a day like that,” he said.
Saso originally committed to play for Santa Rosa JC out of high school, but didn’t feel the Bear Cubs coaches really believed in him and so he switched to Folsom Lake.
Falcons head coach Rich Gregory expressed interest after seeing him play for the Humboldt Eagles.
“He showed that he wanted me a lot and told me I would fit in with their program,” said Saso, who also is a two-way player for the Falcons. “I’m definitely glad I took that route. I learned a lot.”
After redshirting in his first year in college, Saso is still just a sophomore athletically and is looking forward to returning to Folsom Lake in the fall.
“That was a super fun experience,” he said of the trip to the state championships. “I think (next year) we’ve got a good shot to be as good as we were this year, or maybe even better.”
The former McKinleyville Panther says he wants to pitch and play shortstop for “as long as I can” and plans on taking his game to a four-year program after his time at Folsom.
And he’s keeping his options open.
“My goal is to play at a Power 5 program somewhere, but I’m looking at everywhere,” he said. “I want to get a good academic fit and obviously I want to play, so I’ll see where I can get that combination.”
For now, he’s still focused on enjoying his time with the Crabs, with two more weeks remaining in the season, including a three-game series against the Fairfield Indians this weekend.
He’s also renewed some friendships this summer, reuniting with some of his former Renegades and Eagles teammates on the Crabs roster and working some of the Crabs camps.
“He’s been an awesome teammate,” Guiver said. “The guys really love him and he carries himself well.
“He represents us well on and off the field.”
And because of that, Guiver would be open to having him back on the team next summer.
“We would love to have him back,” the manager said. “He’s one of those guys, I could see him being a Crabs player for a while.”
Saso also has been busy this summer following the success of younger brother Tate, who is a key player on the McKinleyville 12-year-olds All-Star team, which will play for a Northern California state championship in Watsonville this weekend.
“For the past three years, he’s gone to state championships,” the elder brother said. “It’s kind of cool to see him having the success that every All-Star hopes for.”