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Beavers Upperclassmen Travis Bazzana and Tanner Smith Developed in Corvallis

In baseball, the journey is long and arduous. To thrive, one must embrace the grind, evolve and be mentally tough. Every journey has a beginning. For Oregon State leaders second baseman Travis Bazzana and catcher Tanner Smith, they jump-started their collegiate career with the Corvallis Knights of the West Coast League. During their summer stint with the Knights, both incoming freshmen started their evolution as players.

Both players are now juniors, grinders and two of the smartest players in college baseball. They are poised for greatness on a team that is a legitimate title contender. The Beavs’ home park – Goss Stadium – has a rich history of showcasing title teams and big games. The Corvallis Knights summer collegiate program, seven-time defending WCL champions, has enjoyed an incredible 18-year partnership with Oregon State University. The club has been blessed to work with players like Travis and Tanner and be a small part of their development journey. We wish them and OSU the very best this spring.

To kick off an eagerly anticipated 2024 spring season, please enjoy the below piece written by longtime Corvallis-area sportswriter Jesse Sowa for the club’s annual report. It recaps Bazzana’s and Smith’s growth and experiences with the Knights in 2021, the start of an exciting ongoing journey.

Beaver Leaders Travis Bazzana and Tanner Smith Grow with Knights
by Jesse Sowa

Travis Bazzana admits he didn’t know much about the Corvallis Knights before joining the team for the 2021 summer season.

What the Australian native understood was winning was an expectation and that the Knights were a well-run organization.

Bazzana, who was headed to Oregon State for his freshman year that fall, was struck by the care of those involved when it came to looking out for the players and bringing all of themselves to the job every day.

From the management to the interns, everyone was aligned on the same path forward.

“It was just incredible, and I was like, ‘this is what I want. I want to be in a place where people buy in as much as I do.’ And they definitely did,” Bazzana said.

It turned out to be a successful summer for Bazzana and the Knights.

Bazzana went on to win the WCL’s most valuable player and top prospect awards, and Corvallis claimed its fifth of what is now seven consecutive league titles.

Bazzana was excited to get in front of the fans at Oregon State’s Goss Stadium, the Knights’ home since 2007. Rarely did the middle infielder get to play in front of large crowds in Australia. But the summer of 2021 was his opportunity to experience that on a regular basis, in addition to getting acquainted with where he would be playing for at least the next three years.

Also starting a journey with the Knights that summer was Tanner Smith, who, like Bazzana, would be a true freshman on the Oregon State baseball team just a few months later.

For some athletes, the collegiate level is the first point in their careers that they’re experiencing true adversity.

Smith, a catcher and infielder from Chandler, Arizona, rode the highs and lows on the field that summer. Knights head coach Brooke Knight, who played baseball and football at Oregon State, helped Smith navigate his struggles.

“Brooke did a good job of coaching me through it and explaining to me what I went through is what good players go through and you’re not always going to succeed,” Smith said, adding that the Knights’ focus on players’ mental approach to the game has been a key factor in his success. “Baseball is a game of failure, and learning to do it at a higher level and to move past it and become a better player was something that I will be forever thankful for in my time with the Knights. I think they taught me more than I will ever actually realize when it comes to becoming a better player and learning how to grow from failure and grow from mistakes.”

For Bazzana, Knight was the first coach or manager he had who could thoroughly break down the game and see aspects Bazzana couldn’t.

In addition to Knight, the team’s head coach since 2008, the Knights had assembled an on-field staff that included veterans Ed Knaggs and Youngjin Yoon as well as Beau Kerns, a first-year pitching coach who was MVP of the NAIA World Series at Lewis-State Clark College just six years earlier.

Bazzana, with a significant jump in competition ahead of him, wanted to use that summer to learn and prepare as much as possible. The Knights’ coaches helped him do that.

“I just wanted to learn from all the people around me and take the opportunity as best I could to become a better teammate, player and person so that when I got to Oregon State I was ready to make an impact and not just do my learning as a freshman,” Bazzana said.

Bazzana credits Yoon, now an assistant coach at Cal State Northridge, for having him mentally ready for the challenges of major college baseball.

A 270-mile bus ride to Yakima, Washington, to open the WCL schedule in 2021 allowed Bazzana and Smith to get to know their new teammates.

Bazzana went 3-for-4 in that first game in Yakima, and he was just getting started. He had at least one hit in his first 10 league contests and was the league batting champion at .429 (with 18 more hits than anyone else) before hitting .400 in five playoff games.

Travis led the league in runs scored (46), tied for first in triples (5), was second in doubles (18) and tied for third in stolen bases (18).

Smith, one of the first in Corvallis to get to know Bazzana, had a front-row seat to the show.

“Just watching him go through the summer and go through his business and do the things that he did, I could just tell the guy was like no other, in my opinion,” he said.

Tanner enjoyed his time with the Knights so much he returned for another go-round in 2022.

“I knew they valued me as a player and as a person, so that was definitely a no-brainer for me,” he said.

Having now spent two summers playing in collegiate summer leagues, Bazzana knows the importance of a good host family. The positive or negative aspects of the experience away from the field can correlate with on-field results, he said.

In 2021, Bazzana was in a comfortable situation with the Kosoff family, Deron and Margo Kosoff and son Ethan.

“I was lucky enough to have a great host family in Corvallis, and that allowed me to just go out and play the game,” he said. “Just lovely people and (they) wanted to help me out in every way they could, and we still have a relationship today.”

On the field, a summer of baseball with the Knights led to better days ahead for Bazzana and Smith.

Bazzana has received all-conference and all-American honors both spring seasons since while helping lead Oregon State to the postseason. Smith has played in 74 games (starting 63) for the Beavers.

Both look back on their time with the Knights as a catapult to collegiate success.

“They do things the right way,” Smith said. “If you’re trying to advance as a baseball player and as a man before you get into college or even while you’re at college, that is a place that you want to be and a place that you should want to play at and will ultimately make you better for it.”

Bazzana says the Corvallis Knights provided the perfect surroundings to find confidence in himself as he stood on the doorstep of his college career.

Competition in the West Coast League featured players with better athleticism and overall higher skill level than he had ever faced before.

The grind allowed him to learn and prepare for the next challenge.

“If you’re a competitor, it’s the best environment for you, so you better come ready to compete because it’s not just a roll-through-the-motions program,” Bazzana said. “It’s pretty incredible if you make the most of it.”

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