Neighbors make good as seniors
It’s not often one school sweeps the player of the year awards in baseball and softball. It’s probably close to unheard of when one school does, and the two players also turn out to be neighbors, but that’s just what the case was this spring when Dayton’s Jamie Chenea and Forrest Garcia were awarded West Valley League Player of the Year awards in softball and baseball.
Garcia, a three-sport star who is committed to playing baseball next season for Lane Community College in Eugene, batted .516 for the Pirates. Chenea led Dayton to the state championship game where it lost 9-3 to Rainier. She was 22-2 this season and 10-0 in the WVL with a 0.22 ERA. Chenea was also the 3A State Player of the Year, and Garcia was a First-Team All-State selection.
Garcia and Chenea talked about living next to each other. When Garcia’s family moved next door when he was in seventh grade, he and Chenea were actually dating, he said.
“One time,” Garcia said, “we were playing catch at my house. I didn’t think she threw very hard. I was going to catch her bare-handed. She threw it, and it hit me right in the calf. It hurt so bad. I decided I wasn’t doing that ever again.”
Dayton softball coach Rob Umbenhower is also a neighbor. Umbenhower lives next to the Cheneas in Dayton behind the fire station, as do a few other families with kids that were big parts of the Pirates’ run to the title game this season.
“We have a little softball alley right here,” Umbenhower said. “The Ringnaldas live just down the road, and the Rays live on the end of the street.”
Cooper Ringnalda was First-Team All-State this year, and Sierra Ray was Chenea’s backup at pitcher and also a good hitter.
Umbenhower said one thing that has always impressed him about Chenea is her work ethic. For years she worked with pitching coach Larry Nichols, the former McMinnville High softball coach. She credits Nichols for helping her become such a dominant pitcher in the WVL.
“She’s been doing that for years,” Umbenhower said. “She put in the extra time.”
Umbenhower said he occasionally would come over to the Chenea’s and visit with Jamie’s father, Bob, who used to coach the Dayton baseball team.
“I could hear Jamie down in the basement, clanking those weights around, working out,” Umbenhower said.
Dedication was something that also helped Garcia stand out. Dayton baseball coach Roger Lorenzen has opened up the gym the last two years at 6:30 a.m. so players could hit in the cages.
“In two years of going in to open up the cages,” Lorenzen said, “there was only one morning when Forrest didn’t show up.”
Garcia made a name for himself on the football field, where he was the 3A Co-Offensive Player of the Year this season after helping the Pirates to a state championship. He played a key role in Dayton’s 2011 run to the state championship game, and he started on three basketball teams that played in the state title game, winning one in 2012. Still, baseball is where his heart is at.
“We kind of just grew up in it,” Garcia said, referring to him and his brothers. “My true love has always been baseball.”
Lorenzen, who coached Garcia the last two seasons, raves about Garcia’s speed, batting ability (he bats from the left side) and uncanny baseball sense.
“I wish more people could have seen him play baseball, because he’s a game changer,” he said.
Chenea also grew up in the baseball and softball culture. She started in every game of her high school career, and the Pirates slowly went from not making the playoffs to the state quarterfinals, state semifinals, and finally the state championship game. She said it was tough to be the losing pitcher vs. Rainier, but there is still perspective.
“It was my last chance,” she said. “It didn’t work out, but it was a good experience.”
Chenea won’t play in college. She plans on attending Chemeketa Community College before transferring to Oregon State, but said playing in Dayton was fun because of the way the community rallied around its sports teams.
“You can definitely see the support,” she said.
Garcia agreed. He was a part of so many winning teams — 10 of 12 teams he played on in high school made the playoffs, the only two being football and baseball his freshman season — and the community was right there the entire way.
“We have been blessed with a good town,” he said, “good people around us and good talent.”