WRHS grad playing hard-core ball with AppleSox

Former White River High standout Payden Cawley Lamb has taken his baseball talents to a new level.

Playing this summer for the Wenatchee AppleSox, the 2010 Hornet graduate hit a robust .350 to win the West Coast League batting title. During the course of 50 games, Cawley Lamb registered 183 official plate appearances and managed 64 hits. He also scored 34 runs and knocked in 24.

A first-team all-state performer during his senior season at White River, Cawley Lamb signed a scholarship offer to play for Gonzaga University. He saw limited action as a freshman on the roster of the Spokane-based Bulldogs.

He broke out this summer, however, playing in the WCL, which bills itself as “the premier wood-bat summer collegiate league in the country.” The goal of the West Coast League, which debuted in 2005, is to give collegiate players a chance to hone their skills in a very competitive environment.

Cawley Lamb landed in Wenatchee at the request of Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf. College coaches throughout the land direct their players to leagues like the WCL for a pair of reasons: first, it’s expected the player will improve and return to his college team with greater skills; second, players who are sent out following their freshman and sophomore seasons hope to grab the attention of Major League Baseball teams and get drafted into the professional ranks.

Cawley Lamb said the first goal certainly was accomplished.

“I feel I improved a lot as a baseball player,” he said, citing both the level of competition and the chance to play nearly every day. At Gonzaga, he started three games as a freshman and appeared in 20-plus contests, but wasn’t a huge contributor.

As for a chance to play in the majors, Cawley Lamb would love to get the opportunity. The West Coast League has sent plenty of players into pro organizations during its short history.

He figures he’ll be asked to head off to another league during the summer of 2012.

For now, he’s reflecting fondly on his experience with the WCL in general and the AppleSox in particular.

“It’s a different kind of feel,” he said, noting that WCL rosters are dotted with quality players from a variety of Division I collegiate programs. The AppleSox roster this year included the starting shortstop from UCLA, two players from the Washington State University program, a pair from USC and others from places like Hawaii, San Diego, Oregon State and Lewis-Clark State.

The players develop close relationships, Cawley Lamb said, while enduring long bus rides and plenty of nights in motels. The nine-team West Coast League has five entries from Washington – the Bellingham Bells, Cowlitz Black Bears, Kitsap BlueJackets and Walla Walla Sweets, along with the AppleSox. Oregon clubs include the Bend Elks, Corvallis Knights and Klamath Falls Gems, and there’s one trip across the border to take on the Kelowna (B.C.) Falcons.

Players receive no financial compensation, thus protecting the college eligibility, so they survive by staying with home families who agree to provide meals and a bed.

“It was great, a lot of fun,” Cawley Lamb said of his season-long arrangement. “You just become a part of their family for the summer.”

The Wenatchee community has embraced the AppleSox in other ways, including showing up for games. The team averaged a respectable 1,400 fans for each home game.

Cawley Lamb and his teammates treated their loyal following to a successful season, winning the Eastern Division of the WCL. They ran into a brick wall when taking on the Western champions from Walla Walla; in a short playoff series, the Sweets won two straight games – played Friday and Saturday – to claim the WCL crown.

Cawley Lamb is now enjoying a bit of free time at home with family and friends. The vacation will be short lived, however, as he will soon head back to Spokane where Gonzaga’s “fall ball‚“ season kicks off Aug. 30. It’s six weeks of practice and intrasquad work, all in preparation for the West Coast Conference season, which begins in March.


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