A young boy sits on his bed in his dorm room at Christ School in North Carolina trying to comprehend the devastating news his mother had just told him.
His father, who was just 46 years old, had passed away.
Army West Point left-handed pitcher Cam Opp was that young boy.
Losing a parent is never easy, especially when you’re young. His father, Stuart, had just lost his battle with stage-4 stomach cancer. He fought for close to two years despite being misdiagnosed and given only six months to live.
During those precious months Cam tried to soak up everything he could from his father. The issue was that they were over 3,000 miles apart.
Let’s backtrack a little.
Cam and his family moved to England when he was 10 years old for his father’s job. He started playing baseball and really found a true passion for the game. He traveled to different parts of the world to play, but one trip in particular started him on a path he will never forget.
“I met the coach of my boarding school on a baseball summer camp trip in Florida,” Cam said. “He told me about Christ School and explained it was a really good school. So I ended up looking into it. After doing some research, I called my dad and we talked about how I thought I should go. We had always talked about me playing baseball in college, and this was like my one shot.”
In England, Cam felt underwhelmed with the competition because of its lack of popularity. This opportunity finally gave him the chance to follow his dream of playing baseball, while also getting a good education.
His dad and mother agreed, and he enrolled at Christ School for his junior year shortly thereafter.
Everything seemed to be falling into place for Opp. He was pitching well and school was going great.
“I called my dad one night and told him I was excited to get home and share everything that had gone on over the last few months while at school,” Cam said.
But when he finally made his way back to England, the welcome home celebration was short lived.
“When I got home they sat me on the couch and then told me the news about my dad’s cancer,” he said. “Everyone was crying. It was really hard because it seemed as though everything was coming together in our lives at that time, but it just didn’t work out that way.”
Opp’s father had already been battling his condition for a little over three months, but decided to delay the news until Cam was back home in person.
“He was diagnosed in February, but I didn’t find out about it until the end of May,” Cam said. “My parents decided not to tell me until I got home for the summer. So while I was playing baseball my junior year, my dad was getting chemotherapy and I had no idea.”
Cam ended up being in the hospital with his father for much of that summer. They spent a lot of time talking about baseball as they normally did. Out of one of those many conversations, Cam decided to plan a trip to attend a camp at every college he wanted to potentially play at. He ended up traveling to schools like William & Mary, Lehigh, Bucknell, and Pepperdine, as well as a highly regarded college showcase camp called Headfirst.
“I went to all these camps and the best look I received was from Jamie Pinzino at William & Mary, when he was the head coach there,” he said. “He came to talk with me during the camp and explained everything that the school had to offer.”
But at this point, Opp still wasn’t fully sure about where he wanted to go. He just knew he wanted to play baseball. He ended up applying to a ton of schools early in his senior year, and the United States Military Academy just happened to be one of them. He had met a West Point recruiter the year prior and that meeting sparked his interest in the Academy.
“I remember a conversation my dad and I had about me going to the Academy,” Cam said. “He asked, ‘You want to go to West Point?’ And after I said yes, he said laughing, ‘I don’t think you’re going to get in.’ He obviously knew how hard it was to get acceptance, but he probably meant to say that to motivate me. And, honestly, it worked because that made me want to come here even more.”
His father never got a chance to see him pursue that dream. One month before graduation, Cam was given the news about his father’s passing.
“I was in the middle of my senior season when he really started to take a turn for the worse,” he said. “But he always said to me, ‘I want you to continue living your life. I don’t want you coming to England and sitting by my death bed.’ He would feel worse that he was taking me away from following my dream.”
When Cam received that call from his mother early that dreaded morning, he had not only lost his father, but his best friend. Baseball was a big connection for them. Like any father and son, the two would play catch, work on hitting, and just talk about the game.
“It was really hard,” he said. “It was a difficult time because I was still playing baseball, but I wasn’t able to use that as a connection with him anymore.”
Once his dad passed, Opp decided he really wanted to attend West Point. But in order to get admittance into the Academy, cadets need to meet a certain standard academically, physically and medically. He cleared those areas with ease. The last thing he needed was a final seal from Congress being that his permanent residence was outside the United States.
Fortunately, the headmaster at Christ School found out what was happening in his life and offered to help. He made a couple of calls and before Opp knew it he had a nomination from the Vice President at the time, Joe Biden. Unfortunately, it was May and too late in the process as all the acceptances to West Point were already gone.
By this time Cam was getting used to having obstacles in his path, but he tried to make the best of the situation. He finally decided to attend William & Mary that fall instead.
“I ended up going to William & Mary but it didn’t feel right,” he added. “I was doing ROTC, which I enjoyed, but it was so hard to do that plus go to school and try to play baseball. There all three areas were completely separate. What’s nice about West Point is that they’re all kind of together as one. I just realized I had a passion to serve the people and places that got me to where I was.
“At that time I was super lost. I didn’t know what I was doing without my dad. He was always the guy who I would call. We’d talk about baseball or how school was going. Not having him around was like not having a part of me. He acted like my older wiser self because we got along so well.”
Cam reevaluated his schooling and decided he was going to reapply to West Point.
“I thought by attending West Point I was going to prove to myself that I could be like the man my dad was,” he said. “I knew that I wasn't the contributor to the family that I wanted to be for my mom and my brother. I thought that the only way I could make it to where I wanted to go was to attend the Academy. So that’s what I did. I eventually got in and I was at West Point the next year.”
Despite being at William & Mary for just a brief time, he later realized how that stop made a big impact on his life.
“Part of my story was that I didn’t make the William & Mary baseball team,” Cam said. “That’s why I felt really lost during that time. We really bonded over baseball, and without it at William & Mary I just felt lost. Now that I was able to walk on here at Army, it really gave me some confidence. But more importantly, it gave me a lifeline to connect with him a little bit longer where I could focus on developing myself without feeling totally separated from him.”
The death of his father happened at such a unique point in Opp’s life that he had very little time to process it.
“It all happened right when I was trying to figure out everything in my life,” he added. “There was little time to really cope with his loss, which probably wasn’t the healthiest thing.”
When somebody dies in a family, especially in the immediate family, it usually brings people closer together. And that’s exactly what happened for Opp.
“My dad not being here physically anymore has brought my mom, my brother and me a lot closer,” he said. “We only have each other. I talk to my brother a lot and he's helped me get through things. And my mom and I talk on a consistent basis even though we live in different countries.”
This tragic event has made Opp grow up quickly. His mom jokes with him that he is wiser beyond his years, and for the people that know him, that couldn’t be more spot on.
“One of Cam’s strengths as a pitcher is his maturity,” Army assistant coach Jamie Pinzino said. “He’s able to clearly separate things within his control and those things outside his control when evaluating his performance, and that helps him really narrow his focus of what he needs to improve on. He’s a kid who has had some very unique life experiences. Those have given him a different perspective and appreciation for certain things, along with a level of maturity that you don’t often see in college students.”
Cam has lived a complicated life up until this point as a 22 year old. But those unexpected turns have made him into the person he is today. Not only is he pursuing a military career but he is a key pitcher on the Black Knights baseball team. He has compiled 34.2 innings on the mound so far this year and sits with a record of 3-2. Opp has one save to his name this season to go along with 31 strikeouts. Most recently, he earned the win on the hill in a pivotal Patriot League game Wednesday at Holy Cross.
To say Opp has come a long way since sitting on the phone in his dorm room that morning is an understatement. But he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.
“Everyone has their own struggles, and it’s all relative to their life,” Cam said. “So for someone to compare their life to my life or for me to do the same — it doesn’t make any sense. There are ups and downs for everyone. Mine was a really big down, but you have to keep moving on and wait for things to get better.”
That something better was achieving a goal he and his father had talked about years prior — attending the United States Military Academy and continuing to play the sport he loves. The Academy made it happen, his father made it happen, but more importantly he made it happen.