The Reporter (Vacaville)
High school grads reunite with Mudcats
CCL team has several former MEL stars
The best high school baseball players from the Monticello Empire League all went in different directions after graduation to play college ball. But in the summer several of them reconvene to play in one of the top five collegiate leagues in the nation, the California Collegiate League, for the Solano Mudcats.
The Mudcats were established in 1990 by Solano County natives Shawn Scibek, George Sebena and Jed Czajkowski. Originally a semi-pro team, it became harder to find older players who would show up regularly. So the team transitioned to a collegiate baseball organization in 2012.
Players must be current college baseball players or graduating high school seniors committed to playing at a college in the fall. Graduating college seniors can play one more summer.
Collegiate coaches send players to the Mudcats with a specific set of skills to develop, such as a pitcher throwing more pinpointed strikes or a batter taking a more aggressive approach at the plate.
The CCL is a wood-bat league. Practically all the top high school baseball prospects in the U.S. swing wood bats in their high-profile tournaments and showcases for scouts in preparation for either the MLB draft or college baseball.
Ben Crombie, in his eighth year as head coach of the Mudcats, noted, “Most of these guys have a shot at playing professional baseball in the next few years. So swinging a wood bat makes the transition from metal to wood if they do end up signing a pro contract a little bit easier for them.”
There are seven Mudcats who played in the MEL — Kenny DeCelle, Adam Chadwick and Brandon Chalk from Vacaville High, Kobe Rolling and Dylan Mehl from Will C. Wood, Justin Claxton from Vanden High, and Justin Banks from Fairfield High.
The former rivals now enjoy playing on the same team.
“It’s actually pretty funny because I love bringing up old memories,” said Rolling, who will be attending St. Mary’s College in the fall. “like saying, ‘Hey, remember that game in high school when I was a freshman and you were a senior?’ So just those memories, we have fun, they all remember it. Those were the good times that we all look to.”
“It’s fun because in high school it’s always a rivalry and you tend not to like those guys,” Chadwick said. “But off the field, you learn that they’re really cool. I’ve gotten close with some of them and I enjoy it because you see it from their perspective because we were their enemies too. So it’s cool being able to team up with them and be friends on the field.”
Chadwick, a catcher, has also had fun reuniting with his old battery mate, Chalk. Both graduated Vacaville High in 2019.
“I’ve been catching him since I was eight years old so I know everything he does,” said Chadwick, who will be playing for Cal State San Marcos next season. “I know him better than he knows himself. I enjoy catching him. It’s like old times and we have a ton of fun, win or lose. It’s always fun catching him.”
Chadwick says Chalk, who pitched for Sacramento City College the last two years, has made a lot of progress since high school.
“Not so much his pitches and his performance, but his maturity level,” Chadwick said. “He’s a completely different person. Everyone misses the old Brandon sometimes. He’s a goofball, but everyone loves him too. If he’s on your team, he’s someone who you love. If you’re playing against him, you don’t like him. He’s definitely a competitor.”
Chalk said that he improved his mental approach while pitching in college.
“Always have a good attitude,” he said. “If something doesn’t go your way it’s all right. Just get the ball and make the next pitch. And that’s what Sac City was really good at teaching me. Not that I had a terrible attitude but I would get mad. But Sac City was really good about next pitch.”
Chadwick and Chalk are also glad to be playing with their former Bulldog teammate, DeCelle, who graduated in 2020.
The speedy, sure-gloved outfielder attended Santa Clara University but didn’t see much action on a team that returned as many seniors as any college baseball program in the country. He is looking to attend a different school where he can get more playing time next year.
In the meantime, he is raking CCL pitching, hitting at a .339 clip through 12 games with a homer, 13 RBIs and five stolen bases.
“The pitching is a lot better (than high school),” he said. “Everyone is throwing 90 miles per hour, facing guys that are supposed to be their dudes. But you get comfortable after a couple of games and that’s when you start having fun.”
Rolling, who just graduated from Wood this year, is experiencing his trial by fire.
“The pitching is fantastic,” he said. “We have a lot of guys from out of state, big D1 players like from Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It’s been a challenge. I’m just picking my teammates’ brains, just having discussions with them on the side, like, where’s he throwing, trying to see what they are getting… Guys are throwing a lot of different pitches, sliders, curveballs, changeups. Just pitch recognition, trying to see it out of their hands better and just put my face and lock my chin and eyes on the baseball and try to square it up.”
Claxton, who graduated from Vanden in 2020, redshirted at Sac City College this past year because COVID limited the team to 15 games and he would not have played very much because there were many returning starters. An excellent defensive infielder, he talked of the adjustment to hitting college-level pitching as a Mudcat.
“A lot of good pitching, velocity and off-speeds are a lot better than high school,” he said. “I just had to adjust my timing a little bit and it came a little bit easier… I haven’t always been the biggest hitter, so I’ve been in the gym a lot recently, trying to bulk up, being able to drive the ball more, get more distance on the ball, up my exit velocity. I pumped it up three or four miles per hour since the beginning of the season.”
Many of the Mudcats have some experience swinging wood bats from travel ball, but it is an adjustment, as they are used to swinging aluminum bats in high school and college.
“It takes a couple of atbats just because it’s more barrel-focused,” Chadwick said. “You have to turn on those inside pitches even more because you will break your bat if you’ve been playing with metal your whole life and you get an inside pitch and you are lazy to it.”
Crombie, who graduated from Will C. Wood in 1999 and played college ball for Shasta College in Redding and Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, said his aim as coach of the Mudcats goes beyond baseball.
“I want to make sure I pass on all the knowledge while I was playing to the next generation,” he said. “But our focus isn’t just on baseball. One of the things we try to do out here is prepare them for life. Be responsible, be respectful and just make sure that they are ready for the real world once they are done playing college ball.”
The Mudcats are in the North Division of the CCL with the Healdsburg Prune Packers, the Lincoln Potters and the Walnut Creek Crawdads. They play each of those teams ten times. The top two teams in the North then enter a playoff with the top two squads in the six-team South Division plus one wild card team from the South. That tournament will be held in Lincoln on Aug. 4-6.
The Mudcats play their home games at Vanden High School.
To learn more, visit solanomudcats.org.