Joe Angeli enrolled at Jesuit High School with the hope of eventually earning the starting shortstop position, a role he'd played since youth, one that showcased his strong right arm and power bat.
But after watching fellow freshman Will Spitznagel make a handful of web gems and skyrocket to the varsity level, it didn't take long for that plan to change course. There was a place in the Crusader baseball program for Angeli, undoubtedly, but where? It was a question head coach Colin Griffin and freshman coach John Santiago debated at length. That right arm of Angeli's was a bazooka. He could hit the ball a mile, possessed great projectable size, plus he had a great mind for the game. What about catcher, both Santiago and Griffin wondered? At Jesuit, catchers are heavily relied upon because of the quality of pitchers on the staff from year-to-year. They must be dependable, durable and able to catch 97-mile hour heaters from the likes of Mick Abel, sliders that break sharply from Josh Daul and off-speed nastiness from Ethan Wilson. The job is not for everybody, but it was for Angeli. And, after moving to catcher full-time, the senior backstop bloomed into arguably the best catcher in the state, one who could rake at the plate, handle the best pitching rotation in the land with relative ease and defend the position at a high level. Angeli was Jesuit's cleanup hitter, defensive dynamo and one of the senior leaders who helped take the Crusaders to a 6A state title, their second in four years.
"Talk about giving up a kid's own vision of what his future at Jesuit would look like for the betterment of the program," Griffin said. "He worked his tail off, learning how to be a catcher. We always knew he could swing it. When we were looking for our (cleanup) hitter, we wanted RBIs, not someone who was going to try and hit it over our (protective) net (that hangs about Jesuit's outfield). He rarely had a selfish swing where he was trying to do too much with the ball. He knew if he stayed short to the ball he could drive it from gap-to-gap. He was a huge performer for us."
Angeli, Beaverton's Kellen O'Connor and Southridge's Zach Hald will all suit up for the North team with Griffin as their skipper at The Freightliner Oregon All-Star Series on June 22 and 23 at Oregon State's Goss Stadium. The first pitch on Saturday is slated for 7:15 p.m. Hald will represent the Metro League in the Home Run Derby at 5:30 p.m. before the first game on Saturday. Saturday's contest is a 9-inning game. There will be no extra innings. If tied after nine complete, the game will end in a tie.
"I'm excited to see O'Connor throw, he's a heck of a lefty for us," Griffin said. "He'll do a good job for us, as will all of our pitchers. There's a tradition of the North winning that we have to keep up. But at this point you just want to make sure everybody gets their at-bats, their name heard over the loudspeaker and their face on the jumbotron. You want to soak it in, but at the same time we're baseball players and we're going to do what we can to win."
Immediately following Saturday's game, players will be issued hotel keys to the University Inn Corvallis and fed on the TnT Builders Party Deck at Banners. Players will be lodged two-to-a-room at no cost to the players. The first pitch for Sunday's finale is set for noon at Goss with the same rule stipulations. Freightliner teams up with Nike every year and hooks the players and coaches with free gear and all the perks of being an all-state player.
"They do an awesome job of making you feel special," Griffin said.
In Jesuit's season opener against South Salem, Angeli stuck fastball after fastball and slider after slider from Abel, not dropping a single strike, not allowing anything to get past him. It was then that Griffin knew he had something special behind the plate in Angeli, who went on to become first-team all Metro and second team all-state. Angeli was accepted into High Point University in North Carolina where he initially wasn't going to play college ball. But after sending film of Angeli receiving Abel's mid 90's heat during a spring break tournament in Southern California, the coaches at High Point offered Angeli the chance to walk on at the Division One level.
"He's a great player, tough as nails and competitive as all ever," Griffin said. "That's the element that takes you to that greatness side, being so competitive that you refuse to lose or refuse to give in. That's what Joe was, that's what our team was."
This is Griffin's second time at the helm for the North. He'll be assisted by Central Catholic head coach Brian Grant and the legendary Ad Rutschman, who won three NAIA national championships in football and won an NAIA national title in baseball his first year coaching the Wildcats. He's a member of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame and NAIA Hall of Fame. In 2016, after leading Jesuit to its first state title in school history, the Jesuit skipper had the good fortune of starting Westview's Kenyon Yovan Lakeridge's Dutton Elske as his battery, the 6A Pitcher and Player of the Years, respectively. And oh yes, there was a switch-hitting man child from Sherwood as well, one that just recently was picked first overall in the Major League Draft. The only issue, Griffin said, much like Angeli's conundrum, was trying to find a place to slide Adley Rutschman, Ad's grandson, into the lineup.
"I told him 'Hey put a first baseman's glove on,'" Griffin said with a laugh. "He said he'd never played first base before and I go 'How hard is it? Just catch the ball'. It's a cool experience because there's a lot of talent out there. It's a ton of fun getting to coach a bunch of really great Oregonians go after each other. I think Oregon does a great job of supporting the talent around each other."
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