West Ranch's Chris Caldwell Embodies Tenacity
May, 2010 - Issue #67
West Ranch
West Ranch's Chris Caldwell
When West Ranch infielder Chris Caldwell fell to the ground after a swing of his bat, no one needed a doctor to know it was bad.

"When I went to swing, my cleat got caught in the dirt and my [right] kneecap dislocated," recalled Caldwell, remembering the game against Golden Valley in April last year. "I felt it bend inward. It was nasty."

Wildcats head coach Casey Burrill - who has 11 years under his belt as a varsity baseball head coach between Saugus and West Ranch - said he had never seen an injury like it on a baseball field.

Spectators in the stands would later tell Caldwell they could hear his knee pop when it happened. Some of the Wildcats' coaches, in the dugout some 60 feet away, heard the nauseating sound, too.

As scary as the injury was, it easily could have popped something else out of place; something that would bring the most pain of all for someone who has played and loved baseball since he was 5 years old.

While the junior lay on the ground in agony that April afternoon, it looked like the prospects of playing any baseball, not to mention his dream of playing at the collegiate level, was in serious danger.

Caldwell refused to let that be the case.

"He really had to battle. I don't know if I personally could have sacrificed as much as he did," Burrill said. "I think it's real clear that the kid loves baseball and didn't want his last baseball experience being that at bat with him being injured. He loves baseball more than any kid I've ever met."

But it wasn't just a love of baseball that brought the 5-foot-11 senior back for his final year. After his first varsity season was cut short, the chance to have what he called the "full varsity experience" was also motivating him.

To return to the game of baseball, he worked through grueling physical therapy in the summer and thought he was ready to play in early July, returning in the middle of summer league.

By August, he was gaining confidence, but just when Caldwell got comfortable he tweaked the knee again, and had to stop playing for another month.

"It was actually good because it was more of a wake up call," Caldwell said. "It was like, 'I can't slack off at all with this thing.' From that point on I've been working on it pretty much everyday."

If the senior felt like he wasn't working hard enough, he was likely alone in that belief.

"He's very driven. The things that he thinks are important, there's kind of a reckless abandon to be good at it," Burrill said. "In baseball he doesn't want to beat you, he wants to beat you bad. In the classroom he doesn't want to be the fourth best in the class, he wants to be first in the class."

So, what has all that hard work brought Caldwell on the field?

He has consistently stayed in the top three in many of the offensive categories for West Ranch this season. At press time, he was the only West Ranch player to hit a home run twice in the same game.

The Wildcats have certainly needed that lift on offense. Coming off a 2009 season that was the best in program history with a second place finish in the Foothill League, West Ranch lost four of their power hitters to graduation. They needed players to fill the void not only on offense, but from a leadership standpoint as well.

"At the plate he's definitely raising the competition, making other players better," said teammate Michael Alvarez. "He's a silent leader. He doesn't lead through his voice; he leads through his actions. He leads through example on and off the field."

And what has all that hard work brought Caldwell off the field?

A 4.4 grade-point average and a full academic scholarship to Occidental College.

That will not only help him achieve his goal of getting a degree in economics, but it is also where he has committed to play on the baseball team (Occidental is a NCAA Division III school and does not offer athletic scholarships).

"Remember in high school, there was that kid - maybe two kids - from a distance you thought, 'They've got their act together; they're going to run a Fortune 500 company someday.' You just knew that was going to happen. I would say everyone on our campus absolutely looks at Chris that way," Burrill said.

"I just hope when he's running a company someday, he'll hire me."
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