Sports

Karl Lindholm: A genuine love of the game

SALISBURY’S WYATT CAMERON has been a bullpen ace for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the Futures College Baseball League for the past two summers. Photo credit: Greg Bessette, Vermont Lake Monsters

It could hardly have been more exciting: in the championship winner-take-all game at Centennial Field, the Vermont Lake Monsters, defending champs in the Future College Baseball League, were down by a run, 6-5, in the bottom of the ninth to the Nashua (N.H.) Silver Knights.

There were two outs, the bases were loaded and the Monsters clean-up hitter, Brian Shaub was up. Nearly 3,000 partisans were on their feet, screaming themselves hoarse.

WYATT CAMERON PITCHING for the New England College, where he is a stalwart of the Pilgrims’ pitching staff, compiling a 5-2 record in 2022. A business major, he is entering his senior year.
Photo courtesy of New England College Athletics

With the count 1-2, Shaub got good wood on the ball, but, alas, it was not to be. The Silver Knights’ centerfielder backed up a few steps, and the ball nestled into his glove. Can o’corn. Game over.

The Knights exploded out of their dugout and celebrated in a pile of bodies in the infield as the Monsters trudged to the sanctuary of their dugout, and we all headed for the exits.

One thing I know for sure — while the Lake Monsters may have lost a very tough game, for high stakes, no fan asked for a refund on the way out. It had been a great night at the ballpark.

The Lake Monsters pitcher who was entrusted to finish this big game was Wyatt Cameron of Salisbury, Vermont, and Middlebury Union High School, class of 2019. He entered the game in the sixth inning with two men on base and got the Lake Monsters out of a jam, then breezed through the 7th and 8th, before giving up a double and homer in the 9th and taking the loss.

The night before, the Monsters had a chance to win the title then too, having won the first game of the best of three series, 12-0 at Centennial. But in Game 2 at historic Holman Field in Nashua, Monsters ace reliever George Goldstein of Middlebury College, (the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year for the Panthers) gave up a 9th inning walk-off double and the Knights came away with a 5-4 win, setting up the climactic showdown in Burlington.

These two pitchers, with intimate Addison County connections, George Goldstein and Wyatt Cameron, were the right pitchers to have on the mound with the game on the line.

George was the Monsters’ closer and had 11 saves, won four games and lost one and was selected the FCBL Relief Pitcher of the Year. He struck out 45 batters in 33 innings, had an ERA of 2.75 and set the league record for appearances with 28 (in a 63-game season).

Wyatt also had a stellar season in ’22 (and indeed in ’21 as well when he was Commo Award winner as the top Vermonter on the Lake Monsters). He pitched in 22 games this season, struck out 49 batters in 37 innings (walking only eight) and had a 5-2 record with an ERA of 2.92.

Both Wyatt and George were selected to play in the FCBL All-Star game in New Britain in July. In that game, won by their side, 9-0, Wyatt pitched a scoreless 8th inning and George did likewise in the ninth.

The Lake Monsters this year dominated the Futures league, setting a record for most wins in a season with 44 (44-19), breaking the old record of 42, set just last year by the Lake Monsters in their first year in the league.

Teammates and friends, these two bullpen aces offer quite a contrast. George is a big, bearded fellow, 6-foot-2 and 225 (at least!) who throws from the side, making right-handed batters especially uncomfortable.

Wyatt is reed-thin, 6-foot-1, 175 and comes in over the top with a three-pitch mix: a fastball that nudges 90 mph, a slider in the 80s, and change-up to keep batters off balance. George is expressive on the mound, emotional; Wyatt is restrained, a study in impassive concentration.

If any pitchers can handle two crushing season-ending defeats, it’s these two. They love the game, and they love to compete. They are resilient, knowing how much failure there is in baseball.

WYATT CAMERON (MUHS 2019) is shown as pitcher for the Middlebury Tigers. The MUHS team was coached by Charlie Messenger, assisted by Wyatt’s dad, Gabe Cameron.

George contributed mightily to the record-breaking Middlebury College team last spring (31-14), setting the school record for saves. Having graduated in June, he is off to begin a master’s program in Sports Management at Georgetown University. There, he hopes to contribute to the D1 Hoyas’ baseball team in the spring with his remaining year of eligibility.

A business major, Wyatt returns for his senior year at New England College, where he will again bolster the pitching staff of the Pilgrim program (24-16 last spring). He plans to return to the Lake Monsters next summer — and is considering graduate study (construction management) with his remaining year of eligibility in 2024.

I came to know George as he was a student in my class at Middlebury on “Baseball and Race.” Wyatt, I had never met, a circumstance that was corrected last week with a 90-minute baseball-infused lunch at Rosie’s Restaurant.

Wyatt attended Salisbury Community School, MUMS, and MUHS. In high school, his coach was Charlie Messenger. When I asked Charlie to what he attributes Wyatt’s baseball success and love of the game, he said simply “family tree.”

The Camerons are a local sports family. Wyatt identifies his dad, Gabe, and Charlie, to be his chief baseball mentors. Gabe, along with Wyatt’s grandfather Bob, “coached me all the way through.” Gabe also played at Middlebury High, then at Plymouth State, and has been a senior player of note. Bob Cameron can be found most days this time of year at the golf course.

“It’s an honor to coach players like Wyatt,” Messenger said, “players who just love being out there, winning or losing. You never have to tell them to hustle or back up a base.”

Middlebury College baseball coach Mike Leonard, who worked with Messenger’s high school players, said, “Wyatt has a spark, a fire, a genuine love of the game. It’s been great to see him have the success he’s had.”

Of Coach Leonard, Wyatt said, “He taught me how to throw a slider, my best pitch!”

When he talks about his experience with the Lake Monsters, especially this year, Wyatt is effusive. “It was awesome, the best possible situation! We have the best fans, and I had the best teammates, from lots of different backgrounds.

“It was an immediate brotherhood, like nothing I’ve ever been a part of. Everybody was in the game. The mindset was never give up! We were there to play baseball, to get better at the game and to help each other get better.”

Teamwork (esprit de corps, camaraderie) is different in a college league from a professional minor league where advancing to the next level, one’s individual play, is the first concern.

“Coach asked me back,” Wyatt told me. “I’m going back to the Lake Monsters next year!”

Karl Lindholm can be contacted at lindholm@middlebury.edu.

THESE VERMONT LAKE Monsters players were selected to the 2022 FCBL All-Star team. Monsters’ relief pitchers George Goldstein, top left, and Wyatt Cameron (next to George), each pitched a scoreless inning for the winning side in the All-Star Game in New Britain, Conn.
Photo courtesy of the Vermont Lake Monsters

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