Oaks well-armed with Matt Campbell
Veteran pitcher wraps up another berth World Series berth with region title
Two years away from a milestone 30th birthday, Matt Campbell has no aspirations of being a Major League Baseball player. That doesn't mean, however, that's he's ready to give up the game.
Despite his age and the fact he has a regular job, Campbell is happy to put on his Palo Alto Oaks' uniform every weekend and head out to Baylands Athletic Center for the team's usual Sunday doubleheader.
There are no financial rewards for the left-handed pitcher. The game itself is enough.
"I think there are really two things that keep me coming out for the Oaks each summer, my competitive spirit and the camaraderie with the team," said Campbell, one of five 28-year olds on the team. "As anyone who has been playing a sport basically their entire life can tell you, the competitive drive never really goes away. It's still fun to get on the mound and take on the physical and mental challenges of the game.
"Also, just being able to hand out with a bunch of really good guys is probably the main reason I am still out there doing this. I can't imagine playing with a better team."
With Campbell once again leading the way on the mound, the Oaks have compiled a 19-4 record this season. Moreover, they are headed to a third straight berth in the American Amateur Baseball Congress Stan Musial World Series, which begins its five-day run Wednesday in Port Lucie, Fla.
The Oaks can thank Campbell for helping them earn the trip, as he pitched a five-hitter over nine innings in a 5-2 victory over the Solano Mudcats on Sunday in the championship game of the AABC Stan Musial Western Regional at Baylands.
Campbell struck out eight, including the final two batters, and walked none. He pitched to just two batters over the minimum for the first eight innings before hitting one batter and giving up a double in the ninth.
That performance came only two days after Campbell pitched eight innings in a 4-1 loss to Bandidos Baseball in the regional opener. The Oaks bounced back from that loss to post two victories on Saturday — 4-3 over the Sacramento Legends and 7-4 over Solano — and two more Sunday, including a 4-1 morning win over Bandidos, to claim the title. Anthony Bona had two hits and drove in three runs in the finale.
A.J. Gallardo struck out 11 to get the first win, Matson relieved in the second game to earn the victory and C.J. Hillyer struck out 10 in the win over Bandidos to set the stage for Campbell.
"Throwing 17 innings over three days is only difficult if your arm is tired or sore," explained Campbell. "Luckily for me, the day after the first complete game my arm felt fine. Then, on Sunday, I played catch before our first game and my arm felt even better so I told our player-manager Greg Matson that I was available to pitch if he needed me.
"As I began warming up in the bullpen to start our final game, my arm actually felt stronger than it had in our first game. As the game went on, my arm started to tighten up a bit so I relied less on my fastball and more on my off-speed pitches. I think the face that I work out on my lunch break at work has allowed me to stay in shape when baseball season rolls around. I'm not saving my arm for anything, so I will throw until it falls off if that's what my team needs."
Campbell trains at Stanford University, where he works in the Office of Development.
"My co-workers and boss are extremely supportive of my trips to the World Series," said Campbell, "so gettting the time off has never been an issue. Some of my co-workers e-mail articles around the office from games I've pitched and everyone sends me their congratulations, which I really appreciate."
While getting time off for the World Series isn't an issue for Campbell, it was for some of his teammates. Thus, Palo Alto general manager Steve Espinoza was contemplating not going to Florida had his team won the regional due to work-related issues and financial concerns.
"Well, we had to win the tournament to go," said Espinoza, who took the Oaks to their previous two appearances in the World Series as team manager. "If we didn't win, I told them we wouldn't go — period. After we won it, I gathered the team up and asked who could not make it. There are a couple of conflicts, but they are trying to work through them. Two of them are school related; one is work related. We will pick up players from the AABC tournament played recently to piece together the best team we can. We need some corporate sponsors and are actively seeking them. I can't deny the boys the opportunity to go to the World Series. We'll make it work somehow."
This latest trip will give the Oaks a chance to improve upon its previous two finishes — fourth last year and third the year before. That may be difficult, due to the fact the field has been expanded to 10 teams.
The Oaks will open play at Digital Domain Park on Wednesday against the North Central champ.
Campbell said three straight straight trips to the World Series doesn't make it any easier.
"Honestly, I don't think comfortability has ever really been an issue for the Oaks, even in our first World Series trip," Campbell said. "On our first trip, we got paired up against the host team (the Northwest Wildcats) in the first game. They were one of the favorites to win the entire tournament and had a roster that was littered with ex-professionals, so no one really gave us a shot. Our team took that as a challenge and we ended up winning that game 1-0."
Campbell was the winning pitcher.
"I won't lie that the World Series is a much different atmosphere than we play in during the regular season," he said, "so I think just the fact of knowing we've been there before and we've beaten teams of that caliber before is the biggest take away from previous trips."
Campbell's career nearly went in a different direction and away from the Oaks in 2007 when he played in the Golden Baseball League.
"My time in the Golden Baseball League was fun," he said. "After I finished my summer season with the Oaks in 2007, I decided I might as well give independent ball a shot for the last month of their regular season. I knew that Daniel Nava (who I played with at the College of San Mateo) was on the Chico Outlaws, so I gave him a call and asked if he could put in a good word for me. He got back to me the next day, saying the pitching coach wanted me to come out for a bullpen session/tryout. I went out there, threw a bullpen before one of their games and was asked to join the team immediately after."
Campbell went 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA and the Outlaws won the Golden Baseball League championship.
"My contract was renewed for the next season, but I had just gotten a new job at Stanford so I decided not to continue with the Outlaws," Campbell said.
Campbell picked up where he left off with the Oaks and, as they say, the rest is history.
Palo Alto won the Sportsmanship Trophy last year and team member Evan Warner, a Paly grad, was named to the All-Tournament Team as an outfielder. The Oaks, however, would like to see what it's like to play in the finals and there's no time better than now.
"I definitely think we have the ability to top our last two World Series finishes," Campbell said. "This is, by far, the deepest our pitching staff has been since I joined the Oaks. We also have a lot of clutch hitters who come through in big situations.
"Obviously, it takes a bit of luck and some good fortune from the baseball gods in order to win a quality tournament like this, but you should never count the Oaks out."