It has happened too many times this summer: Markus Ramos wakes up in the morning and begins to check the forecast. What is the tide schedule? When are the swells? When can he run out of his house to relax on the beach before training?
And too many times, Ramos realizes he is more than 2,600 miles from his home in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, on the south side of Oahu. Hunter Breault can relate, having lived less than 10 minutes away from Ramos, in Kapolei. Back in Hawaii, Breault (pronounced “bro”) could often be found in one of three places: the gym, his house, or the beach.
When the two right-handed Bend Elks pitchers arrived in Central Oregon earlier this summer, they were a bit shellshocked. There was no beach in sight. The nearby mountains were capped with snow. The weather — 60- and 70-degree temperatures — was chilly.
“We felt far away from home,” Ramos recalls, “but it’s a nice place to be in.”
Certainly, the two incoming University of Oregon freshmen miss their friends and families and the white-sand beaches. But, Ramos says, “we know we’re playing baseball, and baseball is our one true love.”
While Ramos and Breault miss the island, baseball has provided enough of a distraction to avoid homesickness while pursuing their college careers. The two say they chose the Ducks over the nearby University of Hawaii because they wanted to move to the mainland. They wanted to represent Hawaii in the Pac-12 Conference. They wanted to see a different part of the world.
“It’s kept us busy,” Breault says of college baseball. “This is definitely a full-time job. You’re at the gym every day, at the field every day, training.”
Oregon coaches recommended that Ramos and Breault play for the Elks this summer. That the two pitchers had no idea where Bend, Oregon, was did not matter. “We’ll just go anywhere,” Ramos laughs.
Charlie Maxwell was in a similar position. Born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, about 10 miles north of Wrigley Field in Chicago, Maxwell has been the hometown kid. His family home is 10 minutes from Northwestern, where the infielder just finished his freshman season. He had never been far from home — not even for summer camps growing up. This year, the Elks infielder is more than 2,000 miles from his comfort zone — and he is loving it.
“It’s like hitting the refresh button,” Maxwell says. “I’m seeing a different part of the world and living a different lifestyle than I did back home. … It makes up for the kind of lack of college experience I got, being so close to home at Northwestern. Now I’m actually away playing baseball, learning how to live on my own. I think it’s the perfect combination for me, because I spent all year so close to home and now I’m so far away.
“Back at school, I’m like the ‘hometown kid.’ … Now, I’m an outsider, kind of, and it’s interesting to be that way because it’s a role I haven’t really played before.”
Just north of Maxwell’s hometown is that of Zach Clayton, a freshman-to-be at Oregon State. An all-state infielder from Oconomowoc (Wisconsin) High, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee, Clayton, like Maxwell, is the farthest from home he has ever been. But he chose Oregon State, he says, because “I really felt at home there.” Bend, he adds, provides a similar — and comforting — environment.
“When I come out here, really, I don’t feel too far from home,” Clayton says. “I just have a feeling like I’m in a good place, in good hands and around good people.”
Before leaving Wisconsin to head to Central Oregon, Clayton says, he was not sure what to expect. The West Coast League offers an elevated level of play, forcing the newly graduated infielder to adjust to collegiate pitching only a month out of high school. With baseball, however, Clayton’s tension was quickly eased.
“When I left, I was kind of worried,” Clayton recalls. “I left all my friends at home and family to come here and make new friends and meet new teammates. It was a bit different a feel. But I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Elks players this summer, as with most years, have come from all over — pitcher Kyle Cantu played for Morehead State in Kentucky this past spring and is from Texas; infielder Matt Kroon was an Oregon Duck but is from Arizona; and outfielder Jack Pauley has crept west — from high school in Kansas to a community college in Nebraska to NCAA Division I Northern Colorado this past spring.
Breault notes how there is little time to be homesick (and staying with host families has allowed players to find homes away from home). Some players have been busier than others. Maxwell has played in 25 games, Kroon in 18, Clayton in 14 and Pauley in 13 (though Pauley was injured for a time). Cantu has made the most starts (seven) among Elks pitchers, Breault has appeared in four games, and Ramos has made just one appearance.
“It’s kind of rough,” Ramos says of having come so far for only limited playing time. “But we understand our roles. We’re upcoming freshmen playing against guys who are seniors in college. Every time we get an opportunity to play, we make the best of it.”
“It’s a lot different from being the No. 1 starter on your high school team and coming here and you’re first or second out of the bullpen for the series, or coming into the last game of the series and you still haven’t gotten an outing yet,” adds Breault. “It’s a little hard to swallow sometimes, but it’s what you’ve got to do, because, like (Ramos) said, we’re incoming freshmen; we have to earn our spots.”
Players such as Breault and Ramos are not too concerned about playing time, however. They are focused more on thriving on their own, thousands of miles from home. And while they often yearn for the white-sand beaches of Hawaii, the two Oregon-bound pitchers have baseball to distract them from feeling homesick.
“The biggest thing is we’re doing what we love,” Ramos says. “We love being on the baseball field. We love playing and committing. … It feels good to be out here playing.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .