April 30, 2019
Baseball is a game and will always be a kid’s game, however many of us are not dumb and realize that competition is a real thing. As a former kid who played the game and now an adult giving back through coaching, I understand both sides of it so much more. Perspective is everything!
Travel Ball/ Club is very competitive and increases in difficulty as the years go by. When you’re 8 years old it is very much about being on the field with your friends and living your childhood. As you get closer to teenage years, you begin to notice which kids have talent and have a future in the sport. There are still some kids who play recreationally, but you notice that there are more who take it very seriously. Every year the game gets more challenging and you begin to think about playing for your high school team, possibly collegiate or even pro.
Now the stakes get a little bit higher. In your age group there are different levels of competition. The kids who are playing at a Major/AAA level are standouts who appear to be destined for competitive HS ball. Those who are at AA/A level tend to be less polished and have more development needs.
The same kind of thing can apply to collegiate play. NCAA D1 and D2 schools are often more prestigious than NAIA and JUCO, often with more players likely to get drafted and find an opportunity to play professional baseball.
Here’s something that most people do not understand…
IT DOES NOT MATTER WHERE YOU PLAY NOR WHAT “LEVEL” YOU ARE PLAYING AT!
In my opinion, the baseball community gets way too wrapped up in what level of travel ball or collegiate competition they are in. Sure there are going to be more HS/college coaches looking at Major/AAA teams and more pro scouts looking at D1 schools. Exposure is important, but playing time is of even greater value.
It is a remarkable accomplishment to get recruited to a D1 program, but what good does it do to sit on the bench until your Junior or Senior year if you’re not matching up with your team’s competition? If you truly value the opportunity to play at the next level, you have to always consider going to where you will play the most.
Not to mention, the statistics and probabilities of moving up to the next level are pretty tough. If you are a youth baseball player no matter what level you are playing at the odds are already stacked against you. Stay focused on your process rather than the outcome.
A quick story about my baseball life is that I always had my eyes set on going to a NCAA D1/D2 school. I played on some really competitive club teams in my HS years and constantly attended collegiate showcases. From my Junior year of HS into my first year attending a JUCO, it seemed like every weekend there was an entire section of college and MLB scouts in attendance. It was pretty cool to play in that environment, and I had zero doubts that I belonged.
But when I went to a couple showcases and never heard back from the college’s coaching staff, I was crushed. Zero scholarships and zero walk-on offers. When I finally got a hold of the coaching staff at Cal Baptist University (the school I was looking into), I was told that I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough to be a part of their pitching staff. Twice.
I talked to my club team coach and got hit with some harsh reality. It didn’t matter how well I pitched in travel ball and showcases because I wasn’t a good fit. I mean, I got all 5 batters I faced out at my Cal Baptist tryouts. I just wasn’t good enough in their eyes.
I was instructed to enroll into a JUCO as a part-time student and play another year of travel ball, all in hopes to have another spring to get in contact with some small schools. At the time, the thought of this really sucked.
I wasn’t going to play for a big-time D1 school and my dreams of playing professional baseball seemed to be fading away. I spent that whole Spring/Summer competing and contacting coaches from all over the country, a California kid looking at schools in Indiana, Iowa, and many places that I never envisioned myself playing at, let alone living there. A little ignorance thinking that I didn’t care if I had to move to the middle of nowhere, all I wanted was an opportunity to call myself a college baseball player.
Then one day an old teammate posted a picture on Instagram of a business card from this coach in Kansas City. I had already sent out 100 emails to coaches all over the country, how hard was it to send out 1 more?
Well, that email was sent out to Coach Cronk from Avila University. I don’t know if he looked me up or saw any of my recruiting videos posted on YouTube, but he gave me a chance to play. I did some research on their program and saw a few things that got me interested. I still wasn’t excited about playing NAIA baseball, but this school was located close to an MLB stadium and the roster had a lot of players from California. They had a winning record and a major that I was interested in pursuing. I applied, got accepted, and coach told me to let him know if I was interested in being a part of the program.
1 week after accepting Coach Cronk’s invitation, I found myself in a dorm room in Kansas City. It was the greatest decision that I have ever made in my life!
As soon as I got onto the field with my teammates, I realized how special it was to be there. I was officially a college baseball player. 4 years later I took my cleats off for the last time and did it with the biggest smile on my face. I logged in 57 innings as a relief pitcher, got 2 at-bats as a P.O, and was a part of the 2016 Heart of America Conference championship team. Through all the ups and many downs, I got to play 4 memorable seasons of college baseball.
My point with all of this is that sometimes it is a bit overrated to only seek high-end opportunities. In my collegiate career I learned that the NAIA has competition just as good as big-time D1/D2 programs. I pitched to hitters that are currently playing with Major League affiliated teams and had teammates who played independent baseball and professional overseas.
If you are a player or are a parent of a teenager who has hopes of playing in HS and beyond, understand that at this moment what matters most is the opportunity to play. If you get recruited to play for a high level travel ball club, that is awesome! If you have the opportunity to play against tougher competition do it because it is going to make you that much better. If you feel that you are good enough to move up a level, don’t be afraid to go to tryouts and reach out coaches who run programs that match with your values as a competitive athlete.
Just be aware that you being on a high level team doesn’t guarantee you anything about your future in the game. If you want to move up a level just to say that you are playing on a Major club/ D1 program, you can run the risk of limiting your development and opportunity to gain playing experience. Again, better to go where you can play and surround yourself with coaches and teammates who push you to that next level.
This isn’t a matter of complacency nor a surrender to your athletic ability. It’s an acceptance of reality and making decisions that put you in the best position to develop today and succeed for tomorrow. No matter your age or your level of competition, if you can really play someone will find you and give you that opportunity that you seek.
Now obviously age is a factor if you are considering playing professional, but as a young player getting into HS/college, don’t get too caught up in the hype of playing for a premiere team. Find a place where you can enjoy the game, learn from great people, and experience the many life lessons that this game teaches us. The older you get the less it becomes just a game with your friends.
The game will always belong to the kid in you, but the increased competition makes it more like a job. Hopefully you can find that job to be exciting and make it be something worth putting endless hours of hard work, sweat, and commitment to excellence.
Scholarship or not, pro contract or retired, play this game the same way you did when you were 5 hitting whiffle balls in the back yard. Treat your tournament this weekend like it’s the World Series, but remember that the game is still about playing catch and getting your uniform full of dust and grass stains. Run hard and play hard. The more you do that, the less you will care about who and where you are playing.
Take care of this and your HS, college, and professional goals can become a reality.