SARASOTA — Cameron Smalley didn’t think anything of it.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon, and the 14-year-old second baseman and his Bradenton 14U Sun Sox teammates were in the middle of the Nations Spring Slam Championship, at Lakewood Ranch Park.
It was baseball as usual for the Sarasota Middle School eighth-grader, and Cameron patrolled the infield with a quiet confidence that comes with having played America’s favorite pastime for the better part of the last nine years.
There, on the diamond, Cameron felt entirely in control.
But, outside the dugout, Cameron’s mother, Tammy, was harboring a secret — one she had been keeping to herself most of the afternoon.
Only after umpires called the final out and he walked over to see his parents did Cameron learn his life had changed in a matter of innings.
An elated Tammy Smalley told her son he had just been named the Taylor Emmons Scholarship Fund’s third scholarship recipient.
“I was shocked,” Cameron says. “I couldn’t really talk. I was just so happy. It’s an honor to just represent their family and to follow Taylor Emmons, who was a really good person.”
Tammy Smalley agrees.
“We were very shocked,” she says. “We don’t have that kind of luck. We knew they liked him, but it felt like forever.”
Cameron always assumed he would be going to Riverview High School next fall. But, about four months ago, Cameron’s mother approached him about Out-of-Door Academy.
“I had always known about ODA, but it wasn’t in the cards,” Tammy Smalley says. “The public high schools seem so big to me. I know he would’ve been fine, but I thought he would’ve done way better in a smaller setting. He’s a pretty special guy.”
After learning more about the school and its baseball and academic programs, Cameron knew ODA would be the perfect fit.
“I wanted to go to ODA because of how many kids get good scholarships to colleges; and the baseball program is developing and starting to get really good,” he says. “Overall, it’s a great school.”
Cameron spent a day shadowing at ODA, before applying for the Taylor Emmons Scholarship in mid-February. He filled out an application, wrote a couple of essays and took a reading, math and writing test at the school.
He then spent two months waiting to hear back.
After receiving the scholarship, Cameron met with the ODA baseball coaching staff and attended the Thunder’s final three games of the season, including its district championship victory over Cardinal Mooney.
“It was pretty cool,” Cameron says. “I knew those would be my teammates and coaches who I would be playing for. It was cool to see what everyone was like.”
Cameron began playing baseball when he was 5 years old and transitioned to travel ball four years later. Since then, Cameron, who plays for Sarasota Babe Ruth Baseball and the Sun Sox, has developed a passion for the game.
“I really want to try and play baseball professionally,” Cameron says. “I just really want to go as far as I can with baseball.”
Two years ago, Cameron won the Sarasota County Cup Championship Home Run Derby, after hitting 14 home runs. Cameron and another player were tied in the final round of the competition, before Cameron ultimately pulled away to win the title.
“It was a battle,” Cameron says. “I was just hoping to hit one home run and make it past the first round. I was one of the smallest kids out there, but I ended up doing really good and winning. It was pretty cool.”
Now, the slugger is eager to join a Thunder team that has reached the postseason each of the past three seasons. He hopes to elevate his game to the next level.
“I’m just really happy I’m going there,” Cameron says.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.