For the last decade, Christian Chamberlain and Sawyer Jaksick have been the best of friends.
Growing up in Montreux, Chamberlain and Jaksick were teammates on their local Little League team and at Reno High, but some of their fondest memories came before that.
“He lived five houses down from me in our neighborhood growing up,” Chamberlain said of Jaksick, “so we played wiffle ball in the backyard basically every day.”
The stakes were small back then, just bragging rights on the line. But come Monday and Tuesday at Peccole Park, the stakes will be a little larger. Chamberlain is now a sophomore pitcher for Oregon State while Jaksick is a freshman outfielder at Nevada, which hosts the Beavers, the defending national champions in a two-game series starting Monday, setting up a potential Chamberlain-Jaksick showdown.
“That’s be pretty funny,” Chamberlain said of facing Jaksick. “That’d be really cool.”
It’s also highly unlikely since Jaksick hasn’t taken an at-bat this season and will almost surely redshirt. But Chamberlain is still looking forward to his first college game in his hometown. The lefty reliever was a key piece to Oregon State’s national-title run last season, trying a College World Series record in the process, and has been even better during his sophomore season. The Reno High graduate has appeared in 15 games (one start) this year, posting a 3-3 record and 2.76 ERA with 36 strikeouts over 29.1 innings.
“Obviously it’s exciting,” Chamberlain said of returning Peccole Park, where he played with his Reno High and Reno Knights teams. “We can’t treat it any differently than any other series with me being home, but it will be nice to see family and friends and so many familiar faces in the stadium.”
While Chamberlain isn’t sure he will pitch when No. 2-ranked Oregon State (28-8-1), the highest-ranked team to play at Peccole Park since 2003, takes on Nevada, he will be fresh. Chamberlain didn’t pitch in Oregon State’s weekend sweep of Arizona, so the odds of him getting on the mound is pretty high.
“That’s be an awesome thing to happen,” Chamberlain said of getting to pitch against the Wolf Pack.
It wouldn’t be his first time doing so. Chamberlain faced two batters against Nevada last season, although that game was at Oregon State’s Goss Stadium. He got one out and gave up one hit in the Beavers’ extra-inning win. While a solid contributor last season – Chamberlain posted a 3.54 ERA in 40.2 innings over 20 appearances – he’s played an even bigger role this season as a key reliever for Beavers pitching coach Nate Yeskie, a Carson High graduate.
“Yeskie had all of the pitchers stay over the summer and lift and just work on your craft and that was a big step forward for me,” said Chamberlain, who was a first-team All-American as a senior at Reno High. “Just working on the mental game is what has separated my pitching from last year.”
As a freshman, Chamberlain helped Oregon State to an improbable national championship as the Beavers were one out away from being swept by Arkansas in the College World Series final before rallying to the championship. In game one of the series, Chamberlain struck out 11 batters in 4.2 shutout innings of relief, tying the record for strikeouts by a reliever in a College World Series game, a mark first set in 1983. Chamberlain became the 12th local high school player to win a team national title in college.
“It was an unreal experience,” Chamberlain said. “Omaha is at the top of the college baseball world and it was surreal to get to play there as a freshman and hopefully we get back there this year again.”
Playing for Oregon State was Chamberlain’s dream once he stepped foot on campus playing for the Reno Knights summer league team.
“I was recruited pretty late out of high school with me being undersized,” Chamberlain said. “I played up here at Goss my sophomore year with the Knights and I knew right when I stepped on campus and took the tour that this would be a place I’d love to go to. I tried my hardest to come up here and it happened, a dream come true.”
Chamberlain got his Oregon State scholarship offer shortly before his senior year of high school started, choosing the Beavers over UCLA, Washington State, Nevada, New Mexico and San Francisco. He opted for the Beavers because of their team success. Oregon State has won three national titles and reached the College World Series six times since 2005. Chamberlain, who was 9-1 with a 1.06 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 59 innings as a Reno High senior, said his time as a Husky under Pete Savage paved the way for his early success in college.
“He is the one coach I’d recommend any high school player to play for,” Chamberlain said of being mentored by Savage. “He does an incredible job down there at Reno and he pumps players out of that program like no other school in the state other than (Bishop) Gorman in the south.”
Chamberlain’s ultimate goal is to move out of the bullpen and become Oregon State’s Friday starter. Despite his relatively short size – he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds – Chamberlain has become a key player for the best college program in the nation, which should show any aspiring Northern Nevada baseball player of what is possible.
“You kind of have to throw height out the window when you are undersized and just play to the best of your ability,” Chamberlain said. “Having a big body might makes things a little easier, you might be a little more durable but baseball is changing. There are plenty of guys under 6 foot in the big leagues right now.
“If you have a skillset you just have to show that off. One thing that can separate your is just hustling, working harder than everybody else and you’ll still have the same opportunities as somebody who might be 6-foot-3. There are ways to work around it and if you do that there shouldn’t be any issues.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.