After serving four years in the Marines, Cason Cunningham wanted to follow another dream and play college baseball.
Linfield junior Cason Cunningham always had a dream of playing college baseball, that is, after becoming a United States Marine.
"Got to go to the Maldives, Hawaii and the Philippines, Singapore, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Africa, Bahrain, Australia and East Timor," said Cunningham.
Cunningham is now in his third fall at Linfield after serving four years in the Marines.
"I had some buddies that I went through infantry training with that went to Afghanistan and some of them have some pretty sad stories about buddies that were blown up, so I am definitely very grateful that I didn't have to go through that," he said.
Cunningham avoided combat during his two tours of duty, and he's certainly thankful for that. Now, he's back to his home base on the diamond.
"He is certainly mature, both on and off the field, he gets it. You don't have to worry about growing up," said Coach Stan Manley. "I think he is a much better student now than when he was in high school even. Not that he was bad but I think he pays attention to it a little more and sees what's out there."
Manley was Cunningham's high school baseball coach at Sheldon in Eugene.
"When I was in Australia, I got an email from Stan asking me, 'Hey, would you like to come and play at Linfield?' and I said sure," said Cunningham.
"I asked him to send me a few videos of him throwing the ball and he did," Manley said.
Manley watched his former ace set the Linfield record for strikeouts last spring with 102, but that wasn't the case in year one with the Wildcats.
"Getting back in the groove of things, I was a little wild my freshman year. I don't know if I set any records for walks but I might have come close because I had quite a few," said Cunningham. "(Former head coach Scott) Carnaham talked to me and said, 'Hey, I'd like you to pretend you are a sniper in the Marines and try to really focus in and hit your spots' and I said, 'Coach, that's why they gave me a machine gun because I'm not that accurate.'"
The former squad leader is now the old man in the clubhouse.
"The umpires will say, if I am standing there between the dugout and the bullpen, 'Coach, you need to get in the dugout or the bullpen.' Oh man, I didn't think I looked that old. Sometimes our first baseman will come back in the dugout and tell me what the other team said. Like, 'I hear he is 30-years old, got eight kids.' There are some pretty wild stories out there," said Cunningham.
"I think what guys see is how much joy Cason has on the baseball field. Coaches have talked, we've never seen a guy that enjoys practice as much as Cason," said Manley. "He doesn't have the down days. If he does, it hasn't shown."
A salute to Cunningham and to the men and women who served our country and continue to fight for our freedoms.
"It feels good that it isn't something that people take lightly and I've got buddies that are still in and are still going to Afghanistan, and it's nice to know they aren't forgotten and people haven't forgotten about it," Cunningham said.
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