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‘Dream bigger’, Diné makes it to minor league, signs with Blackwell Flycatchers

‘Dream bigger’, Diné makes it to minor league, signs with Blackwell Flycatchers

WINDOW ROCK

Cameron Phillips achieved his dream this year when he signed on to play professional baseball with the Blackwell Flycatchers.

Phillips was born and raised in Shiprock.

“This accomplishment feels amazing,” Phillips said. “It is a dream come true, and I’m truly thankful for this opportunity.”

The Flycatchers are based in Blackwell, Oklahoma, and play in the Mountain Division of the Pecos League.

Phillips is Hashtł’ishnii born for Ta’neeszahnii. His cheii is Kinyaa’áanii and his nálí is Tó’aheedlíinii.
He has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember. His mother had signed him up for t-ball when he was 3, and the rest is history.

Pushing forward

He can’t fully explain it other than that he enjoys playing baseball. It lets him have fun with his friends, and it allows him to escape from the real world for a bit.

Despite being from a small community, he has grown strong playing the infield positions, aiming to play in the big leagues one day.

He’s played the sport for most of his life, graduating from Shiprock High in 2016. He walked on to play collegiate ball at New Mexico Highland University but was cut from the team.

“When I got cut, it was like a huge slap in the face,” Phillips said. “But it did motivate me to try harder to get bigger, to get stronger, and to get faster.

“You either quit and live with regret, or you go and push forward and continue your dream,” he said.
He took a year off from college as he trained, building his strength and honing his abilities, still believing he had a chance to make it in college baseball.

During this time, he felt sports continued to help him grow physically and mentally. In addition to being strong, he had to keep up with his studies and balance his training with his school and personal life.

He then got a scholarship from Northeastern Junior College in Colorado, where he played for a year. He played 14 games as a freshman and had a batting average of .200.

He then transferred to Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City, where he finished his collegiate baseball career, batting about .500 as a senior before graduating with his bachelor’s in business this past spring.

Not long after, he got the offer to play for the Flycatchers and signed on May 31.

“It’s truly a blessing because I just want to be a good example for the youth back home,” Phillips said. “I just want to inspire the youth to dream bigger and do greater.”

Playing with the pros

Phillips has already played in eight games this year and said it has been amazing to play with high-level athletes. There are even some former MLB leaguers playing with them.
He is the only Navajo on the team, but he fits in well with his new teammates intrigued by his Native culture.

Playing pro is undoubtedly different. The stands are almost always full, hearing the announcer saying his name at the start of each game and the smell of fresh hot dogs and popcorn in the air. And hearing the crack as a ball is hit sounds different on a pro field. It’s a new and great experience compared to high school or collegiate baseball.

He hopes to make the MLB league one day, but as long as he gets to play his favorite sport, he is happy.

He says self-motivation got him to where he is now, but one person who inspired him was his mother, Marci Benally. She’d wake up at 4 a.m., go for morning runs, make breakfast, and care for the family. He learned from her work ethic and applied it to his busy life as a student- and pro-athlete.

Through the years, he acquired multiple awards for both sports and academics. Some awards he’s proud of include the 2016 Shiprock High Batting Champion, where he batted .591 with 55 hits as a senior. The 2015-2016 ALL-USA New Mexico Baseball Team and the 2020-2021 Red River Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete.

He wants to return to the Nation after his first season and inspire the next generation by showing it is possible to achieve dreams no matter who they are or where they come from. He also wants kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol and use sports to prevent them from getting caught in such negative influences.

“I just want to say don’t take this for granted,” Phillips said. “Whoever gets this opportunity to play, whether it’s college or professional, don’t take it for granted and enjoy it because it can be gone in a blink of an eye.

Many other people would love this opportunity, so take it, enjoy it, embrace it, and be proud,” he added.


About The Author

David Smith

David Smith is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Dziłt’aadí. He is from Chinle and studied at Northern Arizona University. He studied journalism and English for five years while working part-time for NAU’s NAZ Today and the Lumberjack newspaper. After graduating in 2020, he joined the Navajo Times as a sportswriter for two years before leaving in September 2022. Smith returned in February 2023.

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