By Jen Cosgriff
Palo Alto Online Sports
Palo Alto Oaks' manager Steve Espinoza expressed it well: "This team . . . is going where no other Oaks team has -- the World Series."
Espinoza watched his team earn a berth in the Stan Musial World Series with an extra-innings victory over the Oakland Expos on Saturday. As a result, the Oaks became the Western Region Champions of the Stan Musial semipro baseball league and head to Houston, Texas to represent the Western Region in the World Series next week.
The Oaks open against the host Northwest Wildcats on Wednesday, Aug. 11. The team is looking for some sponsors to help defray the cost.
"This team has that something special," Espinoza said, "The 'Refuse-to-lose' mentality that I will never forget. We've had to play through vacations and injuries, and to be 20-1-2 at this point is incredible. We have a good mix of seasoned veterans . . . and we've got some youngsters who are just in college. It's a good blend of both because the vets can shed some light on seasons past, experiences with tournament play. I'm sure that experience helped in the State and West Region tournaments."
That experience definitely helped take the Oaks to Texas. Catcher Bryan Beres had the biggest offensive impact on the team. With his timely hitting, Beres drove in eight runs in the last two games of the tournament, including a grand slam.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of the tournament, and the season, however, comes from pitcher Matt Campbell, who attended Serra High and the College of San Mateo and spent a year interning with the Stanford Sports Media Relations Department.
Campbell has been consistent all season, maintaining a perfect record and throwing a no-hitter in June. Throughout his six years on the Oaks, he's only been tagged with losses, two by a score of 2-1. Ask Campbell about his success with his no-hitter, and he brushes it off.
"I didn't expect it to happen." Campbell recalls. "I wasn't actually feeling that great that day, my arm was a little sore. But, things came together. The catcher called a good game for me and I hit my spots, and it happened."
Ask Campbell's coach, however, and you get a different answer.
"He's been my ace for a long time. Matt knows how to pitch and knows how to mix his pitches to maximize his chances to get hitters out," Espinoza says, with a laugh. "I will cry in my cereal the day he retires!"
The other teams at the Western Region Tournament weren't immune to the pitching talent of Campbell. He picked up two wins, including a shutout over Pasadena that put his team in the championship game. Campbell also got the win in the final game, as a relief pitcher.
The Oaks hope to carry over some of this momentum over into the World Series. Espinoza thinks they can do it.
"I've had other teams with as much talent, but not as much pitching as this years' team," he said. "We'll need that in Texas."
The Oaks could play anywhere from two to six games against eight different teams from all over the United States and Puerto Rico.
Regardless of what happens, Espinoza knows that it's something that his players will remember for the rest of their lives.
"I'm just proud of the team and how hard they have played," he said. "I'm excited for them to get a taste of a World Series event. I was lucky enough to play in two of them myself, a long time ago. Those were the pinnacle of my amateur days. My Oaks players will look back on this, years down the road, and be proud of their achievement. Of this, I'm sure."
The Palo Alto Oaks semi-professional baseball team has qualified for the Stan Musial World Series for the first time in the program's 60 year history. We are thrilled to participate, but the last minute travel expenses will be difficult to cover. If you are interested in supporting the Oaks' participation in this historic event, please contact Head Coach Steve Espinoza at email@example.com or make your check payable to 'Palo Alto Oaks' and send it to the Palo Alto Oaks c/o 1860 Wagner Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043. All of us with the Palo Alto Oaks organization appreciate your support.