Will Chambers feels too blessed to be playing baseball to get stressed about the game’s ups and downs.
For the 21 year old from Stevenson Ranch, Calif., every day with the Ridgefield Raptors feels like a gift.
“The first few days, even still, I show up to the field with tears in my eyes,” Chambers said.
Perhaps no player in the West Coast League has gone through as much as Chambers to keep his baseball career alive.
Knee injuries cost the former high school standout a chance to be taken in the MLB Draft and his NCAA Division-I scholarship.
After reconstructive surgery on both knees and nine months of rehab, Chambers was ready to restart his baseball journey with College of the Canyons.
Then COVID-19 came.
Chambers and his teammates were ushered off the field before a game on March 12, 2020, as the sports world ground to a halt. The rest of that season would be canceled, as was the entire 2021 campaign.
From the end of his high school career in 2018 to the beginning of this summer’s Raptors season, Chambers had played just 19 games.
So it’s no wonder Chambers has been hitting like he’s making up for lost time. Through 12 games, Chambers is batting .419 with four home runs and a league-high 16 RBI.
All indications are this summer could be a big one for Chambers. But that’s not what the 6-foot-3 first baseman/designated hitter is focusing on.
“For me, it’s just to enjoy it all,” Chambers said. “If tomorrow’s my last day or if it’s five years from now, I’m having such a good time that I’m just living in the moment.”
Promising future derailed
Chambers first encountered knee problems when he tore a ligament during his sophomore year at West Ranch High School.
But he recovered and put together a stellar senior season, setting the school’s single-season home run record.
Chambers signed to play Division-I baseball at UC Santa Barbara. There was also a chance he would be selected in that year’s MLB Draft.
But Chambers tore a ligament in his right knee for the second time in June 2018, just a week before the draft. While that put his chance of going pro on hold, he enrolled at UC Santa Barbara with an eye on launching his college career.
Chambers had been at UCSB for just a few months when he suffered a third major knee injury. That led to him having near-total reconstructive surgery (medial patellofemoral ligament reconstruction) on both knees.
He also lost his college scholarship. At that point, Chambers thought his baseball career was over.
“My dad refused to let me quit,” Chambers said. “I thank him every day for that. I remember multiple times sitting in my kitchen crying, saying ‘that’s it.’ He’d say ‘no it’s not.’ ”
Fresh perspective, new chance
Amid those setbacks, Chambers learned lessons about perspective and persistence that will long outlast his baseball career.
“After I lost my scholarship, I was told to take a burger, bring it to someone who is homeless, eat with them and exchange stories,” Chambers said. “I learned that we all have it hard, but some have it harder than others.”
Chambers bore down on the simultaneous rehabilitation of both knees, which he described as nine months of working five hours a day, five days per week.
A second chance at baseball also came, thanks to current Raptors head coach Chris Cota.
Cota convinced Chambers to join his program at College of the Canyons, a two-year school in Santa Clarita, Calif., just minutes from Chambers’ high school north of Los Angeles.
“The first day out there, Cota brought the joy of it back to me,” Chambers said.
That rediscovered love of baseball powered Chambers through the COVID shutdown. Missing nearly two full seasons because of a pandemic would frustrate any baseball player. But Chambers used that time to get stronger, both physically and mentally.
“We just grinded,” Chambers said. “We were in the gym two hours a day, seven days a week, then four hours of hitting every day. But a lot of it is mental work.”
Chambers doesn’t surf, but he used a classic California analogy to describe his new approach to the game.
“Baseball is like riding a wave,” Chambers said. “You can go high or you can go low, but you want to stay in the middle. That’s the safest spot.”
Chambers went through too much to get back on the baseball field to not enjoy every moment. He brings a carefree, fun attitude to the dugout and often interacts with fans.
But for a reminder of how serious Chambers takes baseball, just look at his knees.
“I have a couple of big scars, but being out here makes it worth it,” he said. “It has been a long journey, but it has been worth every step. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”