As last summer’s baseball season began, Caleb Hamilton had his plans fairly set. He would play alongside Oregon State-bound catcher Logan Ice and then walk-on at Washington.
Then came a phone call after a summer game. The Washington Nationals had drafted the Woodinville, Wash., product. Hamilton began to rethink his options and asked to meet with Oregon State head coach Pat Casey.
“Honestly I didn’t expect to be drafted,” Hamilton said after going 0-for-4 with a walk against Portland in Oregon State’s 5-0 victory over Portland on Tuesday at Goss Stadium.
But being selected in the 38th round raised Hamilton’s confidence level. And Ice called assistant coach Pat Bailey about his teammate. Before long, Hamilton was meeting with the coaches and discussing the opportunities associated with attending OSU rather than Northwest rival Washington.
An injury at first base had the Beaver coaching staff moving 2013 third baseman Kavin Keyes to first and that opened the door for Hamilton to seize the starting job at third. He’s one of three freshmen starting at everyday positions. Ice and shortstop Trever Morrison are the others.
“He’s been pretty good, he’s been a good third base for us,” Casey said. “We wanted to get better on defense on that side of the field and with Jared Caspar’s injury, we wanted to get better at first and moving Kav over there accomplished that.”
The Beavers, a College World Series participant in 2013, started four freshmen against the Pilots, who defeated CWS champion UCLA to open the season. Righthander Jake Thompson became the first Pac-12 pitcher with three victories after pitching into the sixth.
Hamilton played error-free again for the Beavers – he has a .966 fielding average with one error in 29 chances – though his batting average took a hit.
As far as the Beavers are concerned, Hamilton, Ice and the other freshmen on the team aren’t freshmen – even if they’re almost as impressed by playing with all-America caliber athletes in outfielders Michael Conforto and Dylan Davis.
“I think it goes with the mentality we have that we don’t have classes,, we’re all ball players out there,” said Conforto, who had three RBIs on a single and a bases-loaded walk in the win. “There are no freshmen or sophomores or juniors or seniors when we cross those white lines.”
As for opting out of going to Washington – the Pac-12 school in the backyard of five starters (Conforto, Davis, Ice, Morrison and Hamilton) – Hamilton is certain he’s in the right place.
“Honestly, I thought it was a better opportunity for me,” Hamilton said. “It’s a better baseball school.”
For the Beavers, it’s a much better draft story than the one that’s dominated headlines around the national contender: the recently ended suspension of senior pitcher Ben Wetzler following his decision to return to school rather than signing with the Philadelphia Phillies as a fifth-round pick.