by Steve Mims
Ryan Cooney and Dawson Santana got a long look at collegiate pitching before ever stepping foot on campus.
The two Portland area prep stars were among the top hitters for the Springfield Drifters during the summer while often teaming up to man the left side of the infield.
Cooney, a left-handed hitter from Jesuit High School who is headed to Oregon, led the Drifters with a .351 batting average that would have ranked fourth in the West Coast League if he had 18 more plate appearances to qualify among the leaders. He also paced Springfield with 18 runs, 15 RBIs, and nine doubles in 30 games.
“Ryan Cooney was really good for us,” Springfield coach Tommy Richards said.
Cooney joined the Drifters fresh off a high school season when he helped Jesuit finish second in state and needed little time to adjust to facing college pitchers on a nightly basis.
“It was good competition, a good schedule and it helped me grow as a player and a person, I don’t think there was anything I would change,” Cooney said. “I’ve always played a lot of baseball, but this was different playing every day. The first few weeks were tough, it was new to me, but I got used to it and enjoyed it. I think it was more of a mental thing for me. I talked to the guys about my approach facing better pitching and it all clicked at the end.”
Santana, who starred at Lakeridge before heading to Oregon State next season, batted .271 in 24 games for the Drifters while scoring 11 runs and ranking third on the team with nine stolen bases.
“I started off hot and was hitting above .300 for a few weeks, then cooled down a bit,” Santana said. “I was a little up and down, but happy how I finished for sure. Obviously, my first year in the West Coast League, it got me ready going into my freshman year at OSU. The stats were cool, but it was more about the experience and figuring out myself as a player so I was happy.”
Cooney and Santana were among the youngest player in the WCL, which is open to any player with remaining college eligibility. While most of the players in the league are in the middle of their college careers, Cooney and Santana got to get a sneak peek at college competition right out of high school while playing a schedule that resembles a minor-league team.
“It was an awesome experience, starting with the coaching staff and players,” Cooney said. “They all welcomed me as a younger guy and the older guys taught me the ropes, they were easy to talk to.”
Santana, primarily a middle infielder in high school, was able to play those spots while also gaining experience at third base with the Drifters.
“It was a ton of fun, I met a lot of great people and the baseball aspect was amazing,” he said. “I played a ton and got an opportunity to explore a new position and get out and perform each day.”
Cooney was able to stay in a family home near University of Oregon while exploring the area that will become his home during college.
“The coaches were amazing and the ballpark was beautiful, it was an all-around amazing experience,” said Cooney, who returned to Eugene on Aug. 16 to join the Ducks.
Santana, who arrived at Oregon State right after the Drifters season ended, had a similar summer experience.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Whenever you go play on a team like that, it is a dream to wake up and only worry about baseball. You go to the field and have fun and you can use all the training tools. Even on the road, they provided meals after the game so it was awesome. Once in a lifetime.”
The veterans felt the same way including Jason Shedlock, a junior-to-be at Cal State San Bernadino who batted .315 with 15 runs scored and 10 stolen bases for the Drifters during his first summer in the WCL.
“It was a fun experience, I really liked it,” Shedlock said. “The coaches were every motivational, even when we had some down stretches, they were confident we could win and we had some upswings to keep it going.”
Springfield won 10 of its final 19 games to finish 22-31 in its second season, a five-game improvement over its inaugural year as more fans filled in Hamlin Field throughout the summer.
“The stadium was great, one of my favorite to play at so I am glad it was our home park,” Shedlock said. “I was out there having fun, that is what summer ball is all about. Have a good time and work on things. It helped prepare me for next season by playing so many games in such little time. The organization was really good, no complaints.”