Nine-hour drives, doubleheaders in 97-degree heat and no air conditioning at an inconspicuous team motel. . . .
It’s wasn’t the most luxurious 450-mile road trip to Healdsburg in Sonoma County, but the Conejo Oaks baseball team wouldn’t spend the dog days of summer any other way.
Midway through the California Collegiate League summer season, the Oaks (6-10 overall) are trying to hone their skills before returning to their respective college campuses. This year’s team has 13 ballplayers with local ties.
“It’s almost like an all-star team,” said Elijah Alexander, a Camarillo native and incoming junior left fielder at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. “You get to play with some local guys and some guys from across the country. We all get to share our experiences we’ve had, come together and learn from each other.”
Dylan Francis, an incoming senior right-handed pitcher at Cal Poly Pomona, graduated from Thousand Oaks High in 2013. He last spent a summer with the Oaks three years ago.
The Lancer said he’s delighted to reunite with former high school teammates Bailey Holbrook, a corner infielder, and Jackson Simonsgaard, a left-handed pitcher bound for Rogers State.
“Being back on the field with them has been a blast,” Francis said. “Talking about how we’ve grown as baseball players and men throughout the years, it’s really fun.”
The 24-year-old, who spent time at Western Nevada, Oxnard and Ventura colleges after high school, is coming off an impressive junior season at Pomona, in which he maintained a 3.80 ERA as one of top starters on team.
“I’m hoping to continue that next spring,” Francis said. “I’m working on my change-up to be a dominant secondary pitch.”
David Soliz, the Oaks’ eighthyear skipper, said Francis is looking good on the mound at Cal Lutheran, the team’s home field.
“He’s been having a phenomenal summer so far,” the coach said of Francis. “All of his starts have been really quality starts.”
David Appleby, a 2015 Agoura grad, has also pitched well this summer. He spent the past two seasons throwing at Santa Barbara City College. He’ll be a junior economics major at Michigan this fall.
“It should be a doozy there,” the 20-year-old said. “I think studying the money side of things is pretty important. I’m sure going to such a prestigious school with such a huge alumni will put me in a good position after school and after baseball.”
Appleby said he was surprised to see so many friends and former foes on the Oaks this summer.
“When Bailey (Holbrook) showed up the first day, that was the first time I’d seen him since we played against each other (in 2015),” Appleby said.
Holbrook, 20, spent two years playing at Union University after graduating from Thousand Oaks in 2015.
“It’s a good experience playing with all the guys I grew up playing against,” Holbrook said. “It’s a lot more fun and a lot more relaxed, but everyone still wants to win. It’s great.”
Eddie Kutt, a 19-year-old entering his sophomore season at Ohio University, and Bo Jelinek, an incoming sophomore at the University of San Francisco, are right-handed hurlers who prepped at Westlake. Fellow Westlake graduate Bryce Vitt, who stars at catcher, most recently played at Pierce College.
Kutt, an environmental science major at Ohio, maintained 3.60 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 17 walks in 50 innings for the Bobcats this season.
“I was granted to pitch a decent amount so I got more experience,” he said. “I was pretty fortunate to play in the Marmonte League growing up because the competition is great. Going to the (Mid- American Conference), I felt like I could compete with anyone coming from such a good league.”
Alexander is one of three Scorpion alumni on the Oaks roster.
The 19-year-old reunited with fellow Camarillo graduates Andrew Lucas, an incoming freshman at Cal State Northridge, and Ramon Gomez, an incoming sophomore at Oxnard College.
Alexander batted .281 in 52 games, racking up 54 hits, 23 runs batted in, 13 doubles, four triples, four homers and three stolen bases in his first season in the Lone Star State.
Johnny Lavallee, a Royal graduate who won a CIF-Southern Section boys’ water polo championship in 2016, is an Oaks right-handed pitcher. He plays at Pierce College.
Aidan Dolan, a 6-foot-2 pitcher who hails from Oak Park, prepped at Chaminade.
Zach Kaminkow, a freshman catcher at UNLV who used his medical redshirt to have shoulder surgery last year, played his first two prep seasons at Simi Valley before transferring to Chatsworth.
Despite the rising temperatures and occasional road trips, the 18-year-old communications major said he’s glad to use his summer gearing up for a position battle at UNLV.
“It’s awesome being around this group of guys and playing against great competition,” Kaminkow said. “It’s fun to play baseball out here.”
Meet the Oaks with local ties
The Conejo Oaks, a collegiate wood-bat baseball team loaded with former local prep standouts, started the summer 6-10 overall. Here’s a list of Oaks players from Acorn country:
• David Appleby, RHP, Michigan, Agoura High
• Eddie Kutt, RHP, Ohio, Westlake
• Bryce Vitt, C, Westlake
• Bo Jelinek, RHP, San Francisco, Westlake
• Aidan Dolan, RHP, Oak Park resident
• Dylan Francis, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona, Thousand Oaks
• Bailey Holbrook, 1B/3B/OF, Thousand Oaks
• Jackson Simonsgaard, LHP, Rogers State, Thousand Oaks
• Elijah Alexander, OF, Rio Grande Valley, Camarillo
• Ramon Gomez, IF, Oxnard College, Camarillo
• Andrew Lucas, OF, CSUN, Camarillo
• Johnny Lavallee, RHP, Pierce College, Royal
• Zach Kaminkow, C, UNLV, Simi Valley resident