Last October, I wrote a post about ten truths for travel baseball parents as a tie-in with my novel, KEEPING SCORE. (Available here through Amazon! ) KEEPING SCORE is about a mother of a 9-year-old boy playing travel baseball for the first summer, and she gets completely caught up in it. Near the end of the book, her son Sam meets a pitcher for the University of Virginia and begins dreaming of playing there one day himself. While most boys his age dream of playing in the major leagues, by the time they are serious players in high school, the dream is about college ball. Since the NCAA regionals were this past weekend, leading to the Super Regionals this upcoming weekend and then the College World Series, I thought now would be a good time to impart some of the lessons my family and I have learned during our son’s experience showcasing, being recruited, and playing college ball.
High school baseball isn’t the deciding factor for playing college baseball. Of course it matters to your son, and your community, and your family. Playing high school baseball, being with the same cohort of kids for four years, is one of the most worthwhile experiences a teenager can have. For most players, their baseball dreams end here, so it’s the pinnacle of their childhood. But for players good enough to play at the next level, their high school records and experiences don’t count. College coaches rarely come to high school games anymore. Rather, it’s all about the summer showcase team. Thanks to Perfect Game, college coaches expect to see their prospects in July in Atlanta, Georgia rather than in their hometowns in the spring. This makes sense – the coaches have their own teams to worry about in the spring. Prospects need to get on the best, most well-organized showcase team, attend those tournaments every summer they’re in high school, and make sure the coaches they want to see them know their schedule.
Verbal commitments don’t mean anything. Even though players can’t officially commit until November of their senior year, the trend has been going for verbal commitments at younger and younger ages. For parents, it can feel like a merry-go-round, especially when your son’s teammates have all committed and your son hasn’t yet. But this verbal commitment is worth the paper it’s printed on. The school can rescind its offer at any time. Your son could change his mind, true, but it’s more likely that a player who commits his sophomore year and then has a bad junior could find himself without a school.
Schools have an unlimited number of walk-ons. With (fully funded D1 programs) 27 scholarships and 35 players, only eight players should be walk-ons. (A walk on is a player who does not receive any scholarship money. The NCAA requires that scholarships be at least 25% of tuition, along with books. Since D1 baseball only offers 11.7 scholarships per team, most kids receive a fraction of a full scholarship. Walk-ons can be recruited just as hard as scholarship players, or show up at an open try-out.) But since coaches can allow any number of kids to walk on, some schools have over 40 players showing up in the fall hoping to make the team. Do they let the other walk-ons know about this competition? Of course not. In the spring, teams are only allowed to carry 35 players. Everyone else will be redshirted or cut.
Coaches can switch schools and immediately begin coaching. Players cannot switch D1 schools and immediately begin playing. The NCAA, which exists to protect its member universities and not its student-athletes, has a rule that says a player who wants to switch D1 to D1 has to sit out a year, even if that player has been redshirted by his school and will not be playing. In other words, if Ray is a recruited walk on at D1 Texas State University and receives a redshirt (which means he won’t be playing at all, but won’t lose a year of athletic eligibility), he can’t transfer next year to D1 Texas State College and play. The NCAA will make him sit out a year, which would mean two years on the bench for Ray. If Ray wants to play next year, he’ll have to find a D2 or D3 school, or attend a junior college and graduate from it before playing D1 again.
No one cares what you did in high school. You may have been All-Met, All-State, Gatorade Player of the Year, drafted in the 15th round. No one cares. The clock starts all over again when you step foot on campus. And you’re competing with kids who were just as successful in high school as you were. When you were recruited, coaches may have made promises about being a starting shortstop or the first guy out of the bullpen. Those promises mean nothing.
No one cares how you did it in high school. It’s not unheard of for a college coach to try to completely change a player’s hitting stance, pitching mechanics, pitch selection, or even to ask a position player to play a completely different position or even try pitching. Starting pitchers become relievers or closers. It’s the coach’s team, and what he says goes.
Winning is everything. Coaches aren’t there to be nice or play fair. There’s no guarantee of playing time for anyone. There’s no guarantee that your scholarship will be there next year, or even your roster spot. The coach was hired to win and his job is on the line if he doesn’t. If you can’t help him win, don’t whine that you’re on the bench.
Kids do not go to junior college because they aren’t good enough to play at a four-year school. Rather, they go because they didn’t like the four-year-old school they chose when they were a sophomore in high school and then hated their freshman year, and are now at junior college because they wanted to play rather than sit out a year. Or their grades weren’t good enough to go directly to the four-year school they planned to attend. These kids are good players and shouldn’t be underestimated, which leads to this next point:
College freshman compete with junior college transfers without knowing about them. Perfect Game doesn’t track these commitments, and many of them happen late. So Ray and his parents might have been happy that Texas State had graduated its shortstop and Ray was the only freshman shortstop listed, but they didn’t know Texas State had three shortstops lined up from various Texas community colleges. And that also leads to this point:
If you’re not committed by November your senior year, it’s not too late. If you’re willing to take a chance, many D1 schools with very strong programs find themselves shorthanded in June, when more juniors than they had expected get drafted and leave, while at the same time more of their high school commits do the same thing. That means scholarship money unexpectedly opens up. There are kids who commit to big programs only weeks before stepping on campus all the time.
That was 10, but here’s an additional point that is true at every level:
It is better to get a lot of playing time on a mediocre team than to sit on the bench of a championship team. Bragging rights do not trump time on the field.
Best of luck to you and your son as you continue along his baseball journey! Please read my book, KEEPING SCORE, available as a paperback, on Kindle, or as an audiobook!
Here’s the blurb:
When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon had no idea the toughest competition was off the field….
When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.
And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.