Leo’s Journey from Little League to College Baseball (HS Freshman)

This is part 6 (Age 15, 9th grade) of an ongoing series following a young player’s baseball career from Little League to College Baseball. In order to get the most out of this series, be sure to start at the beginning.

Part 6 is long, so I broke it up into sections.

Leo entered high school a few weeks before his 15th birthday. High school is a big transition for most kids. So how was that transition for Leo, especially as it related to sports?

image courtesy pixabay

It started with Football.

Football season

Football was by far the most popular and prestigious sport at Leo’s school. In this town, football wasn’t just a game. It was an all-consuming way of life.

click to skip explanation box and resume the story

What Does Football Mean to a Young Baseball Player?

Football culture in a small, rural town is not something I've personally experienced. I did get a little sense of small town football culture recently when I watched Varsity Blues, a high school football comedy/drama movie that exaggerates things a bit . . . at least I hope it does . . . one reviewer who claims he played football in Texas said "Having played football in West Texas for a 3-A dynasty team, this movie brings back the memories and the nightmares that a dynasty town can give . . . the attitude of the players and coaches seem real."

With football being the most popular and prestigious sport at many schools, it often attracts the best athletes. Talented athletes who love baseball may end up playing both baseball and football, or giving up baseball altogether in favor of football. I have heard more than one high school baseball coach say they don't like their baseball players to have played a lot of football, because they get too banged up and injured which ends up impacting their speed and reaction times.

Another difference is coaching style. Baseball is a cerebral game that requires being in the right state of mind, especially pitchers and hitters. So better baseball coaches know that barking at the kids too much during games can hurt player performance. Football coaches on the other hand tend to keep players motivated by barking at them and keeping them moving when they get tired and banged up. Some football coaches often have no problem pushing players to keep playing through pain.

In baseball, it is a very bad idea to pitch through shoulder pain. Yet that is exactly how some football coaches managing a baseball team treat their pitchers. They ask them to play through pain, as if they were a football player who has a bruise on the thigh. The problem is, pitching with shoulder fatigue and/or pain greatly increases the chance of permanent damage which may require surgery to repair.

Despite football’s popularity, Leo didn’t want to play high school football, primarily due to the reputation of the freshman football coach. But the freshman coach attempted to recruit him several times for the fall football season, and perhaps Leo felt a little peer pressure as well. Leo finally agreed to join the team after the first game of the season had been played.

Leo’s football team was a 9th grade freshmen-only team playing other 9th grade freshmen-only teams, but in the largest size (and therefore toughest) school classification. At 5′ 6″, 147 lbs, Leo was small compared to most of the other players.

Though Leo never played offense in prior seasons, the coach had him play backup quarterback, presumably on account of his arm and athleticism. After all, everyone knew he could pitch. The coach devoted considerable effort towards teaching Leo the quarterback position. In football, you have to have at least one backup quarterback, in case the starting quarterback gets injured.

As luck would have it, the starting quarterback did get injured near the end of the next game. He was removed from the field on a stretcher, with a grade 3 concussion. Inexperienced Leo came in and did okay, though he ended the game throwing a 50-yard interception right into the safety’s hands. More alarming, as he attempted to run in for the tackle, an opposing player blind-sided him. He was lying on the ground with a number of players and coaches looking at him, which gave Wayne quite a scare. But Leo did get up and he was fine.

Leo was the quarterback for the next few games while the starting quarterback recovered.

Wayne was not enthusiastic about Leo playing football. The team had a weak offensive line so the risk of injury to Leo, the quarterback, was high. And though Leo had been filling out at a faster pace over the past year, 5’6″ and 147 lbs (just as he turned 15) was below average for a 15-year old and far below average on a 6A football field. 6A was the largest school size classification in Leo’s state. 6A schools therefore selected from a large pool of players, and that typically meant very big kids on sports teams, including football.

Wayne was not shy about recounting how scary it was to watch Leo play football with such a weak offensive line. Here’s how Wayne described Leo getting knocked flat in a game near the end of the season (post 612):

We played a game against one of the 6A powerhouses in our area. My boy was starting QB. It was awful, just awful. The defense was literally and I mean literally standing next to my boy on every play when he had the ball snapped to him….keep in mind that our offense always goes in the shotgun. You cannot imagine how bad our offensive line is…..I couldn’t even make this stuff up they are that bad. I mean these 9th graders can’t even slow a defensive player down for 1 single second.

Our snapper is scared of getting hit (all the offensive line is) and he continually has bad snaps. When my boy hands the ball off to the tailback he literally has to decide if he wants to hand it to his tailback or to the 3 other defenders standing there waiting on the ball.

Anyway, it happened. Once again on the last play of the game my boy gets the crazy knocked out of him. One of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen. The coaches just want the kids to score to have a little confidence I guess. We are on about the 15 yard-line my boy takes the snap and sets to throw. In this formation the tailback is supposed to stay back and protect the QB to give him at least a little time. For whatever reason, and I’ll never know why, when the ball is snapped the tailback moves to the right and lets the tight-end and fullback go untouched, at a full run straight into my boy as he starts to throw. The kids just absolutely creamed him. The clock runs out and my boy is laying on the field.

He was pretty shaken up so we took him to the ER. They said he didn’t have a concussion and according to the doctor just got his bell rung.

I’m pretty mad to be honest. I have the most respect for these coaches, but they clearly have an offensive line (and tailbacks) who are scared of getting hit. We are losing as it is, yet the coaches never make any changes. I think the biggest mistake coaches make is if they see a boy that is big then they put them on the line. Freaking nuts if you ask me. I would rather have a kid half the size that can at least have a little heart and slow a defender down for a couple of seconds than some bigger boy who is scared of getting hit.

Anyway, we have two games left and our next game is Monday. My boy was cleared to practice and play by the doctor but I’m not sure if the coaches will let him play. They know the hit he took and I think they are going to give him this next game off.

I’ll be glad when baseball gets here……geeeeeezzzz this football is killing me.

On the bright side, the discipline of football seemed to be helping Leo do better than usual at school. Though not close to being a straight-A student, he was working harder and his grades were improving.

Leo sat out the last 2 games of the season, as the starting quarterback returned to play.

The football season ended with little team success, but happily without Leo sustaining serious injuries. Leo did get knocked flat a couple times during the season, including the previously mentioned emergency room visit. But no concussions. No broken bones. Nothing more than the occasional bruise. Wayne was relieved.

While Leo was playing football, he also finished out his pitching program and participated in some off-season baseball workouts—light weights, running, etc. There were also a couple of intrasquad scrimmages mixing high school baseball players from all 4 grades.

Leo’s first quarter report card was his best ever, barely missing honor roll as he did get a C in one course. Wayne thought that being on a football team had something to do with it, as he had seen a similar grade bump during last year’s football season.

All things considered, Wayne was quite pleased with Leo’s first few months of high school.

To play up, or not to play up? That is the question

A couple months later, the baseball season began. At 5′ 7″, 155 lbs, Leo was still smaller than average for a large size-classification baseball program, but he didn’t look it. With his body becoming more muscular and filling out, he didn’t appear as small as he had in prior years, at least in comparison with his freshman teammates.

This year’s high school baseball program director was new for the high school, but not for Leo. This was the same coach he had in middle school, newly promoted to be in charge of Leo’s high school baseball program and head coach of the varsity team. Wayne and many other families had high hopes for the new coach to turn around the school’s historically lackluster high school baseball program.

Leo’s freshman team was clearly stacked with many good players. On the other hand, by most accounts the varsity team was going to be weak this year.

step by step . . . a modified pixabay image

Wayne wondered if some freshmen, including Leo, would be moved up to junior varsity or perhaps even varsity. Wayne hoped not. He thought Leo would have more fun playing with a great team and getting a lot of playing time to help his development rather than coming off the bench to pitch occasionally as a varsity player with a weak team.

click to skip explanation box and resume the story

When is it Better to Play Up?

There is an age-old high school debate: is it better to get a lot of playing time with the lowest level high school team, or is it better to be moved up a level, even if it means more bench time? More generally stated, is it better to "play up" with older players, against tougher competition, but (likely) with more time on the bench? Or will a player develop more by staying put, getting more at bats, and getting lots of playing time (possibly at multiple positions)?

The "playing up" question is not just for 9th and 10th graders. It applies to players of all ages, even the young ages. Should a talented 7-year-old "play up" to travel ball? In a rec league with two all-star teams, if a 10-year-old is barely good enough to make the "A" team, is the "A team" or "B team" better for development? Will a college player have a better experience riding the bench at a leading Division I team, or playing as a star on an average Division II team?

There's no simple answer that applies to all situations. The answer will vary depending on the talent/skill level of the player in question, the level of play around him currently, and the level if he were to play up. Other factors to consider are how determined the player is to improve, how much the social experience matters, and whether he is likely to lose his interest in the game if he mostly sits on the bench.

As Wayne was to find out in Leo's Freshman and Sophomore years, the answer isn't necessarily obvious for a given player and his particular set of circumstances.

Leo had only once experienced anything related to “playing up,” and only briefly. It was when he joined a skilled travel ball team at the age of 11. That situation worked out well for Leo. Despite coming in with less experience, he quickly caught up to the other players and more than proved his worth when he taught himself how to be a catcher, which was sorely needed by that particular team.

But this was not the same situation. Leo was moving up from middle school with a competent group of baseball players. The freshman team would likely play at a high level together, but against weak competition. Players who got promoted would get to face tougher competition, but would be playing with a JV (junior varsity) or varsity team that wasn’t going to do all that well. At least initially, both Wayne and Leo were thinking it would be more fun and better for Leo to stay with his freshman team, assuming everyone else was also staying. In Wayne’s words (post 615):

Anyway, this freshman class is the same group of boys that he played with last year and they were one of the better 8th grade teams in our state. But we have a few problems this year . . . our Varsity team is going to be very bad. Everyone knows this and our coach has said as much . . . it wouldn’t surprise me if they moved my boy to Varsity.

As much as I’ve always hoped he would make Varsity early I’ve changed my mind on it now. I would rather he stay and play with the Freshman class. He’s not ready for Varsity and if they put him up there pitching, the other 6A schools will eat him and his 78 mph fastball up. On the other hand I think he has a good chance at being a very good Freshman pitcher and a good or above average hitter. It will help his confidence and allow him time to grow.

Anyway, no one has told him he’s going to Varsity so I may just be talking out my head. But we are excited about baseball again and I’m so very happy that after all these years he still loves the greatest game in the world.

And then, a few days later (post 666):

The coach gave everyone the rosters for Varsity, Jr Varsity and Freshmen.

Only two sophomores made the Varsity (my boy tells me they are very good players) and no freshmen made Varsity or Jr. Varsity.

Looks like we have a smart coach. He told us at the first meeting (after he had been promoted to head the baseball program) that he wanted to rebuild our program into a top school in our state. He went as far as to tell us that he was thinking down the road and the program may suffer for a couple of years at first. He was talking about the lack of talent among our Sr’s and Jr’s. Even though we are a 6A school there are only 3 Sr’s on the team.

Looking at our roster for the beginning of the year he has kept all of our Freshmen together. I love it….these boys can stay together until they grow and learn more about the game….maybe even have a little fun along the way.

The answer for Leo to the “play up” question was “not yet.” That is not to say this would always be the answer. And it is certainly not to say that this is the correct answer for other players in other circumstances. It’s a tough question, with an answer that will vary depending on many factors.

Freshman baseball season

So with Wayne and Leo both looking forward to his first practice, guess what happens? Yet another setback. Luckily, this was a tiny one. In Wayne’s words (post 664):

Yesterday was to be the first full practice of the year. Actually was going to be my boy’s first practice as a high school freshman. Coach told us at the boosters meeting that freshmen through varsity would practice together for the first week then after that they would split up the practices.

I was so looking forward to seeing my boy practice alongside the varsity players and looking forward to seeing him practice for the first time this year.

Wouldn’t you know it…. this past weekend he goes out with his friends and eats Chinese food. Makes him sick as a dog and misses school the next day and of course practice. Geeeeezzzzzz

Though Leo missed the first practice, the usual pre-season baseball routine followed. After a couple weeks of getting arms and bodies in shape, the coach radar-gunned everyone’s throws. Leo was clocked at 79 MPH. By mid-February, Leo was one of 4 freshmen who were invited to a few practices with the varsity team.

That was the good news.

The bad news, at least in Wayne’s mind, was that Leo was not practicing much outside of official practices. He stopped doing arm bands and light weightlifting and it almost seemed as if his interest in baseball was waning. Was this the beginning of the end? Maybe. It was hard to tell as Leo was in one of those teen stages of hardly talking to his elders. In Wayne’s words (post 675):

I don’t know what’s going on with my boy lately……he almost never talks to any of us and he doesn’t look like he’s having as much fun playing. Also, and this is very important, for the first time he isn’t doing any work at all away from the field on his game. He is supposed to do arm bands and light weights every night that the pitching school told him to do and we can’t get him to do them anymore. He isn’t doing any batting away from the field or any pitching. Basically all he is doing in baseball is when they practice…..

I don’t know…. having a 15 year old kid is nuts. I mean I just don’t understand what’s in his head and getting him to talk is like pulling teeth. I just hope he isn’t losing his love for the game but for the first time I’m starting to see that he doesn’t love it like he once did.

Leo’s results on the field didn’t yet reflect his declining work ethic.

The first game he started as pitcher, he shut out the opponent—a complete game with only 1 hit, 1 walk, and 10 strikeouts. More strong games followed. It was obvious that Leo was not just a top pitcher on his team, but one of the top 15-year-old freshman pitchers in the state.

Getting the call to play up

By March, Leo began getting called up to play on the JV team on occasion. However, Leo really enjoyed the strong freshman team and was disappointed when 2 of the top 3 players were moved from the freshman team to varsity. Leo wasn’t one of them. If they were going to break apart the team, then Leo was a lot less interested in staying down with a weakened team. Wayne didn’t understand why, of the three top players, Leo wasn’t one of the guys who was called up. In Wayne’s words (post 741):

Now the really bad news….. after the game our team was told that 2 of our players would move to the Varsity team. My boy isn’t one of them and it’s just killed him…..he feels like he’s been shot and well… “crapped” on (for lack of a better word). As I’ve said many times on this thread our 9th grade team has 3 very good players (my boy being one of them). The other two moved to Varsity and he’s stuck on the freshman team that has just been cut down to where we will have a hard time winning with our present team.

It’s taken the spirit out of my boy and I simply don’t know what to tell him.

My boy has pitched two complete game 1 hitters (shutouts) and they call this other kid up to pitch. He’s a good pitcher but isn’t having near the year my boy is.

Anyway, I think it’s because of my boy’s size. At 5′ 7″ I guess the coach doesn’t want to pull him up.

My boy didn’t care that much about moving up this year anyway. He wanted our team to stay together and win like we’ve done for the past 3 years. Since this has happened we’ve lost 4 games in a row and the chemistry on the team is shot.

In early April, Leo was permanently moved to the JV team. A few days later, he was invited to play with the varsity team, but not until later in the month. Leo finished out his JV games. During spring break, he stopped doing anything related to baseball, even working out.

In high school, in the middle of baseball season, players don’t quit practicing and working out—especially just before a first chance at varsity. Yet, that’s exactly what Leo did, and Wayne wasn’t happy about it.

But it didn’t matter what Wayne thought. Leo was 15, and he would do what he would do. As with many 15-year-olds, Leo thought his dad (grandfather, in Leo’s case) didn’t know anything about anything so wasn’t worth listening to. Wayne knew it would be pointless to try to steer Leo toward more practice, and possibly harmful if it drove Leo out of the sport. So he kept his mouth shut. At least he tried to.

The first couple games with varsity, Leo was mostly on the bench. However, Leo played in the next two games, which were a double header on the last day of the regular season, in late April. In the first game, he came in to pitch against a top team when Leo’s team was pretty far behind. It was an emotional moment for Wayne, to see his grandson throw his first pitch in a varsity high school game. Leo glanced over to Wayne with a brief smile, and then threw the first pitch.

In 2 innings, he gave up 3 hits, 3 walks and altogether 7 runs as his fielders committed some errors. It didn’t look pretty, but he threw hard and it was his first varsity outing as a pitcher. Some batters had trouble hitting his fastball, resulting in many foul balls and long at-bats, some of which ended up as walks.

He started the next varsity game as second baseman and played the entire game. The coach gave Leo a chance to play and also a chance to go with the team into the playoffs a few days later. He even told Leo he would probably bring him in to pitch at some point in the playoffs.

Going to the playoffs was a pretty big deal for the school, as they were traditionally weak at baseball and this had been only the second time in school history the varsity team had ever qualified for the playoffs. During the season, the coach had moved up a few of the better performing freshmen and sophomores to varsity. The team became more competitive.

Wayne was surprised by this latest turn of events and very nervous about how it would all go for Leo, as the team would be facing far better teams.

Well, Leo got to start as second baseman. He didn’t hit (there was a designated hitter) but he played the field as second baseman and did fine. They lost, and they were out of the playoffs.

The team they played was flat-out better. Of the 2 seniors on Leo’s varsity team, neither had any interest from any college baseball teams. The team they lost to had 13 seniors, 6 of whom were committed to Division I NCAA college baseball teams. Clearly, that team was loaded with well-coached talent that was ready for the next level. Would the varsity team be at that level by the time Leo was a senior?

Leo’s team was happy to get even this far, and to play well enough that the game was not called early on account of a mercy rule. Mercy rules are various rules that kick in when one team is very clearly going to win—for example, a popular travel ball mercy rule ends the game after 4 or more complete innings, when a team leads by 8 or more runs.

Leo played a few more games with varsity through mid-June. One of them was pretty scary for Wayne to watch. Leo was brought in to pitch against a great team that had already taken a commanding lead. It didn’t take many pitches before a big senior hit a fastball right at Leo. The screaming liner hit him in the chest and he fell to the ground. Wayne was terrified. The ambulance rushed Leo to the hospital. He turned out to be okay, as he had guarded himself with his glove arm so it glanced off his arm before hitting his chest. He ended up with a big bruise on his arm and that was about it.

The cool thing about this game was that scouts were there clocking the other team’s pitcher, a great college prospect, at 88 MPH. That kid was an 18-year-old senior. While they were at it, they clocked Leo at 80 MPH a couple times, and once each at 81 and 82. Not bad for a 15-year-old. Not bad at all.

Leo’s first showcase

On a lark, Wayne and Leo decided to enter an inexpensive regional showcase tournament. Wayne thought Leo did very well, but was surprised when the numbers came back. They clocked his fastball at 77 MPH, bat speed at 79 MPH, 40-yard dash in 5.5 seconds, and the 60-yard dash in 7.63 seconds.

The reported numbers, while not horrible for a freshman, were not particularly noteworthy either. Leo was disappointed.

Something odd was the clock speed on the pitching—Leo’s teammates had seen most of the pitches flash higher than that on the radar gun, one pitch as high as 82 MPH. Wayne and Leo never did figure out why that happened.

Wayne suspected it may have been a size issue—with Leo being just about the smallest player at the showcase, perhaps there was a little size bias coming into play, causing the numbers to get slightly fudged. Even had Leo’s numbers come out better, Wayne was starting to learn that college coaches are more willing to take chances on an unfinished player who fits the big, physical profile over a player who looks to top out at 5′ 9″ at most. However, it’s unclear why that might cause a showcase organizer to intentionally misreport numbers. It’s possible that Wayne simply didn’t understand how data was processed for such events.

click to skip explanation box and resume the story

What are Showcases and When do they Matter?

Showcases at the national level are a way to get talented baseball players seen by college coaches and pro scouts. These scouts do attend prestigious national showcases such as Perfect Game. The numbers start to matter a lot more in the summer between sophomore and junior year when kids are beginning to explore schools they might want to attend, and college baseball programs are starting to make verbal offers for the best baseball talent. That's the theory, anyway.

I don't know how effective small regional or local showcase tournaments are at serving this function, but many believe they serve as stepping stones to national showcases. Someone who gets very high numbers at a regional showcase may receive an opportunity to attend a national showcase where they truly do get seen by scouts.

In actual practice, showcases are a landmine for those who don't have experience with them. Purportedly, many regional showcases are at least to some extent unscrupulous money grabs. They might dangle the possibility that a scout will be present but the scouts rarely show up. They might follow up after a showcase to "invite" a player to be on a prestigious team that charges enormous monthly fees. They might hardly do anything but have a regular tournament that happens to have the word "showcase" in it. Regardless, many players who attend multiple showcases never get a single offer to play on a college team, after spending many thousands of dollars.

Realistically, freshman numbers don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. Most freshman aren't done growing, and none of them have finished developing. The summer before junior year is when these numbers begin to matter a lot. Not only are many kids done growing by then, but it's also when they're researching and visiting universities in preparation for sending in applications in the fall of their senior year. It's also the start of when top college baseball programs begin to lock in verbal commitments with top players.

So, generally speaking, it's not important to attend showcases as a high school Freshman. On the other hand, if the cost is low enough, it can't hurt either.

This particular showcase was inexpensive and didn’t lead to any troubles for Leo. It was merely a low-cost opportunity for Leo to get his feet wet with how some college recruiting is done these days. Beyond getting “feet wet,” Leo’s first showcase didn’t accomplish anything.

Summer baseball

While Wayne thought the 9th grade spring baseball season went well for Leo, it didn’t end there. The high school coach arranged for the varsity team to play in a so-called showcase tournament in early June. He enrolled the freshman team in a summer league, and he enrolled all of the school’s baseball players in a rigorous summer workout program.

The varsity showcase tournament showed Wayne and Leo how much talent is out there, as they competed with top teams from their region in a 40-team tournament. Leo did get to play with the varsity team. They won 1 out of 8 games. Leo got to play several positions, including as pitcher. While he pitched very well for a 15-year-old, the 18-year-olds could easily hit him. In Wayne’s words (post 787):

We really learned a lot . . . there are a lot of good players out there and hopefully my boy sees the work he needs to put in to play against that kind of talent.

As varsity games wound to an end in mid-June, the summer season for the freshman team began. Leo’s understanding from the prior few months was that his freshman team was good. Good as they were, they weren’t good enough to beat teams whose players were mostly 2 years older than they were. Indeed, Leo’s freshman team was totally outmatched. They lost many games by 20-30 runs. Some opponents were routinely hitting over-the-fence homers, one of which went over 450 feet. Leo managed to hit one home run over the fence himself, which was a nice bright spot during the summer grind.

It didn’t help that most of the players on Leo’s team were tired. They not only had grueling workouts 3 times per week for the summer conditioning program (so grueling that some kids threw up at the first one and all would come back looking totally spent), but they also had a very packed schedule averaging about 1 baseball game per day with American Legion. Even Wayne, ever gung ho about more baseball, thought 7-8 baseball games per week was too much.

Wayne began to gain perspective. Throwing low 80s fastballs for a freshman is great, but for juniors and seniors that’s easy pickings. For a right-handed pitcher like Leo, it’s not until you get to 90 MPH or very close to it that good junior and senior high school hitters start to really struggle. Secondary pitches like curveballs and changeups may also work, but only if they are really, really good. This is one of the main reasons it’s uncommon for a freshman to play on a varsity team in high school. You see the same thing at younger ages. Sometimes a pitcher who dominates when pitching to players in his age group will see every pitch blasted to the fence when scrimmaging against players 2-3 years older.

In other words, there was no reason to be concerned by the fact that Leo and everyone on his team were thoroughly outmatched by players 2 years older. This was normal and to be expected. What matters is year-to-year improvement, knowing where you’re trying to go and figuring out how to get there, not current performance against older players.

What next for Leo?

After a summer of very hard work, especially grueling, mandatory conditioning workouts, Leo was tired and a bit down on baseball. But Leo was a much better ball player. When he joined a travel team for some August play, he was one of their top players and he really loved playing with this particular team. However, they weren’t pitching him.

Furthermore, when Leo saw the lists for school baseball next season, his name wasn’t on the varsity team. Just JV. Yet again, he was going to have to fight his way to get playing time on the better team. Wayne thought Leo was getting discouraged by always having to work harder than bigger players he outperformed, though it was unclear how much of this was coming from Wayne, and how much from Leo.

On the other hand, as Wayne was to hear over and over for the next couple years, any junior or senior who hits 90 MPH on the radar gun in front of a scout will have no problem getting an offer to pitch for a good college team. It was not out of the question that Leo might hit that magic number by his senior year.

Oh—and that travel ball team Leo joined in August—the one that wasn’t ever pitching him? Leo had neglected to tell the coach he could pitch, so the coach had no idea. When they finally found out he pitched a month later, they pitched him in a championship game for a weekend tournament. Leo was great. He was confident. He was dominant. In Wayne’s words (post 828):

Well, I’m not hyping this up when I tell you about the team he had to pitch against. They were pounding every team they played and all of the boys on that team were huge and had great arms. My boy talked to one of them and he said they didn’t even know each other’s names. I don’t know how or who picked the boys to be on that team but obviously they were handpicked, which is fine of course…..that’s part of travel ball.

Anyway, my boy had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. He had not pitched in over 4 months and he simply dominated that group of boys who had been killing the ball all tournament. In the end he struck out 7 walked one. In the 6th inning he started to get tired and after walking one he hit two batters in a row. Then he had 2 errors behind him and 4 unearned runs scored (all in the 6th inning).

I have no idea how hard my boy was throwing but nobody in that tournament threw harder than him. He talked to one of the boys on the “big” team and he told him that three of the boys on that team threw 85+ (it looked like it because they had impressive arms). If they were throwing 85mph then my boy was throwing 86. My little Bushnell gun simply will not work on the big fields where the mound is so far away. Doesn’t matter anyway because he was hitting his spots and pitched one of the best games he’d pitched in years.

We pulled the game out though and won the championship!

In a conversation after the game, Wayne found out just how confident and aware Leo was of his own pitching ability (post 842):

After my boy pitched I told him he struck out 9 batters and jokingly I said ” just think how many you would have struck out if you had your fastball.” I figure was a couple of miles off. This was his reply….

“I couldn’t throw my best fastball for a strike so I just threw the best fastball that I could get for a strike, and kept them off balance with my curve”.

I don’t know….. I just don’t know many kids that have enough confidence to pitch in such a big game against such a good team and have the knowledge to know what he can and can’t do on the mound. I’ve seen so many pitchers down through the years that if they can’t get their best fastball over they just try to throw harder and harder….which of course is the last thing you want to do. He just concentrated on location and didn’t have his best fastball and they still couldn’t hit it.

So yeah—all that summer work paid off. With Leo clearly on track to perform well on the baseball field in his sophomore year, Wayne couldn’t help but wonder about the varsity question. Why wasn’t Leo going to start next year with varsity? Would he quickly be promoted or was he going to be the last of the top players to make it again?

Would Leo make varsity at all?

Part 7 of Leo’s story: HS Sophomore (Age 16, 10th grade)

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

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