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NATIVE SON: Olson has found a home in Humboldt
RVHS product an All-Star in Arcata
Life moves at a different pace up in Humboldt County.
Cameron Olson had that "We're not in Kansas anymore" moment on his first day in Arcata.
He made the roughly 250-mile journey up California's North Coast in late May and arrived in the quirky coastal town with little knowledge of the area.
When he walked up to a restaurant to get lunch one day, Olson had to double-take at a peculiar sight you don't see very often in the Yuba-Sutter community.
"There was literally a guy just sitting in the parking lot smoking a joint," Olson recalled. "It's definitely a culture shock when you first get here.
"A couple of my dad's friends are cops and came to watch me play. They really didn't know how to react to all of that."
On occasion, smoke emanates from Arcata Ballpark — but that's just Olson destroying the Far West League with a wood bat — sorry, couldn't resist.
The 2012 River Valley High graduate has endeared himself to the Arcata faithful with an All-Star season for the Humboldt Crabs summer baseball club.
Olson is batting .320 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs for the Crabs this summer. His homer and RBI total both rank third in the Far West League.
His Humboldt club took home its first Horizon Air Summer Series since 2007 this weekend, edging out the Marysville Gold Sox, and is only 1⁄2 game out of first place in the FWL.
On Tuesday, he will have the opportunity to play baseball in front of his family and friends right here in Marysville when he joins the Far West League All-Stars, who will take on the Gold Sox.
Collegiately, he plays a little closer to home with the Division-I UC Davis Aggies of the Big West Conference.
He owns the distinction of being just the second River Valley High athlete to sign with a Division-I university straight out of high school. The first being Courtney Smith, who plays softball at East Carolina.
Olson saw significant playing time as a true freshman, batting .274 with 16 RBIs in 34 games, including 21 starts. He played both catcher and designated hitter, though he may see time at first base next spring as well.
Olson thought he might be slapped with a redshirt, or just get a few at-bats his freshman season, but ended up being a huge contributor to the Aggies.
The Big West features West Coast powerhouses such as Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Irvine, among others.
After missing the first three weeks of the season following knee surgery, Olson's first start came against UC Irvine, a humbling experience.
"I had to face a left-handed starter, and when I saw the first pitch I just thought to myself, what am I getting myself into?" said Olson, who bats left and throws right. "It's been a lot of fun though ... it's nice to go up against the best."
UC Davis assistant coach Tony Schifano suggested to Olson the idea of playing baseball for the Crabs this summer, and he jumped on the opportunity.
The toughest transition for Olson was getting used to a wood bat. He used wood last summer while playing for the Hoptown Hoppers in Hopkinsville, Ky., of the Ohio Valley Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
Olson said his biggest goal this summer was to not put too much pressure on himself.
"I think the biggest thing for me was just staying relaxed and letting it all go," Olson said. "My parents have been able to come and watch every weekend, so it's been a lot of fun."
Being a local celebrity has its benefits, too.
It's pretty common for Olson and his teammates to receive discount meals at local establishments. Most nights at the ballpark feature an ensemble band blaring music and about 1,000 fans cheering on the team — a similar environment to Appeal-Democrat Park.
"It's a lot of fun, everyone is easy-going and it's definitely a good baseball environment," Olson said.
Olson played against his hometown club in a two-game series at Arcata Ballpark in June and enjoyed catching up with local Gold Sox players Louis Mejia and Chandler Eden.
After going to several games as a kid, he said he wouldn't mind suiting up for the Gold Sox at some point in the future.
"I love my hometown of Yuba City and being able to play in front of my family," Olson said. "I played for Peach Bowl (Little League) and with the Yuba City Flood so I've had a lot of good baseball memories back home."
For now, Olson is just happy to come home this week and put on a show for the local fans.
He hasn't had much of a break, but Olson wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's definitely tiring, but I love playing this game," Olson said. "It's definitely worth it."
CONTACT Sports Editor Jimmy Graben at 749-4791