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Ten-Day Signee Jimmy Cleary of Corvallis Hopes to Earn Full-Time Spot with Knights.

January 14, 2014

Sophomore Linfield College Outfielder Signs with the Hometown Team

Ten-Day Signee Jimmy Cleary of Corvallis Hopes to Earn Full-Time Spot with Knights.

Jimmy Cleary was often too busy to attend Knights games while growing up in Corvallis.

But the sophomore outfielder at Linfield College - one of four 10-day signees the Knights will count on to produce in early June before all the full-time players arrive - followed his hometown team closely and even dreamed of playing for the club someday.

"I mostly knew about the Knights from reading the newspaper, because I was playing games every night," said Cleary, a speedy 5-foot-11, 180-pounder who was the Mid-Willamette Conference Player of the Year and a Reser's Oregon All-Star Series participant in the spring for Corvallis High School and standout for the Gerding Construction American Legion summer program before heading off to college.

"But when we got an off-day I'd try to go with my family or my friends and watch as many games as I could. I was at the championship game last year," when the Knights edged Wenatchee 1-0 at Goss Stadium to capture their third West Coast League crown.

"It was a good defensive battle where [the Knights] manufactured a run to get the win" despite collecting only two hits. "That's my style, that's the Knights' style. It was great to watch, and now to be able to play for them is really exciting."

Cleary will be the sixth Corvallis native to play for the Knights since they moved here from Gresham for the 2007 season. Crescent Valley High graduate Brett Casey and CHS alum Jake Roy started at several positions for the 2007 squad; CHS alum Billy Clontz also started at several positions in 2008 and 2009 and was an assistant coach in 2010, 2011 and 2013; CHS alum Aaron Corwin pitched in 2010 and 2012 and CV grad Scott Stone played infield in 2013.

Ten-day contract players bolster the roster in early June, while many anticipated full-time players are still in school or participating in the various postseason tournaments. It's not unusual for such signees to stick; Josh Hogan of Mt. Hood CC (2007); Griffin Boyd of Mt. Hood CC and Alex St. Pierre of Lewis & Clark College (2010); Kramer Scott of Portland, Sean Myrom of Concordia, Dane Lund of Mt. Hood CC and Matt Nylen of Mt. Hood CC (2011); Rob Dittrick of Pacific, Devon Barker of Centralia College and Marc Gallegos of Corban (2012); and Sean Eberhardt of George Fox and Seth Heck of Tacoma CC (2013) first joined the club on a temporary basis before earning permanent status.

Cleary said he believes his aggressive approach, and left-handed bat on a team with few lefty hitters, enhance his chances of staying around past mid-June.

"Putting the ball in play, putting pressure on the defense and using my speed to my advantage, that's my game," he said. "The Knights are all about [making contact], making things happen, drag bunting, finding holes where you can, stealing bases, and manufacturing those runs. I think I can use my strengths" to further his cause, he said.

Jimmy couldn't crack a loaded Linfield varsity roster as a freshman and thus played on the junior varsity in 2013, when the Wildcats won the Northwest Conference and the NCAA Division III national championships under coach Scott Brosius.

Only three players from that title team graduated, so playing time could be at a premium again this spring. However, he took a positive attitude into January's off-season workouts and intends to do whatever it takes to make the varsity when official workouts begin later this winter.

"There aren't a whole lot of spots open, but I am definitely going to compete for a spot and hopefully a starting job," he said. "There will be opportunities for me to show coach Brosius that I can play at that level and am ready to make a big impact on the team.

"We get to face our pitchers in practice and it's just fun. There is no doubt we have the best staff in Division III, and to get that experience hitting against them will be very important to carrying over for Linfield and this summer."

Cleary envisions the Knights as the next step in a career climb that's already included the aforementioned successful stints with the Spartans and with Gerding Construction.

"First I had to focus on playing someplace in college. I got that opportunity at Linfield," he said. "Now I have this opportunity, and I'm really excited to stay in Corvallis and play on the best team in one of the best summer leagues in the country.

"You can't ask for anything more."