Paul Valencia column: Weather, camaraderie warm Camas baseball

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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If all went according to schedule, the Camas Papermakers returned home around midnight Wednesday.

No one could blame them, though, if they all "forgot" to go to the airport.

The Camas baseball team just completed the best 0-5 road trip any team from Clark County will have this year. There was In-n-Out Burger and Fatburger. There was Huntington Beach. There was Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA. Sure, there were five baseball games to play in Southern California, but it was so much more than that.

"No rain. No wind. From where I'm sitting right now, it's 77, bright sunshine, and no clouds in the sky," Camas coach Joe Hallead said in a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation.

"I love the Northwest. I'd never move out of the Northwest. But baseball season would be really fun if we could fly everyone down here to play."

It was a chance to escape, to get away, to hang with each other for four days in a row. Just the baseball family.

Hallead talked about the late-night video games in the hotel rooms. The mad dash to the nearby store for a junk-food run. Checking out the scenery. Even the van rides to and from games were special.

There was even one player who made memories for all of them because he just could not figure out those California dugouts. The facilities there are so nice, even the dugout concrete floors are smooth. One player, who Hallead promised not to name publicly, fell on his backside over and over again.

"Every time he jumped off the bench, bam," Hallead said. "That was funny."

Those are the stories that make a trip like this so successful. Not the wins and losses. Still, the coach said the quality competition they faced will help down the road.

"It's going to make us stronger," Hallead said. "It's going to help us pull through tougher situations."

The Papermakers got a late start to the season because of this trip. They had to hold off on traditional non-league games against Clark County or other Washington opponents in order to play the five games in three days in sunny California. That might have seemed like a bummer when the rest of the teams in Clark County were playing baseball, but no one from Camas is complaining now.

"I would definitely do this again," Hallead said. "The fund-raising wasn't a whole lot of fun ... but it's not that difficult."

The team raised funds that paid for hotels and ground transportation.

The players' families paid for the airfare.

All 20 on the team played in all five games, with the exception of two players who missed one game because of tired arms. After all, the Papermakers played five games in three days.

That's a toll on any pitching staff.

Hallead, though, promised that anyone who made the trip would not sit the bench.

"If they were going pay 300 bucks for airfare, they were going to see the field," he said.

The fields alone were enough to make the trip.

"All the fields we played on were really nice," senior Trent Johnson said. "The infields are perfect."

Hallead called them pristine, with no bad hops.

One field had the type of lawnmower that is used for greens on a golf course.

The team flew down on Sunday, played two games Monday, then hit Huntington Beach on Monday night. That was followed by another doubleheader Tuesday and a trip to Jackie Robinson Stadium to watch UCLA take on Cal State Fullerton.

"I'm a big baseball historian," Hallead said. "Going to Jackie Robinson Stadium was the highlight for me. We got pictures by the Jackie Robinson statue."

Hallead, now in his 13th year as the Camas coach, said the team has gone on some fun trips through the years -- but nothing like this.

"This is a lasting experience."

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com. Follow him on Twitter: @360paulv.