Leo’s Journey from Little League to College Baseball (HS Senior): A New Hope

This is part 9 (Age 18, 12th 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.

Note: The only source material for prior parts was Wayne’s forum thread. This part sources some material from newspaper articles covering Leo’s well-known head coach. To help keep Leo and Wayne’s identity private, I do not name the coach or provide links to these sources.

Throughout Leo’s senior year, Wayne knew that Leo’s high school days were coming to an end. He also figured that Leo’s baseball days were coming to an end.

courtesy pixabay

Leo had enough baseball talent to continue. But Leo had repeatedly demonstrated in high school that he wasn’t willing to work hard at baseball or his studies. He preferred hanging out, partying, and sharing cool moments to his public Myspace page. Leo’s Myspace page was not a particularly great way to present himself to potential college coaches.

Wayne expected Leo would probably quit baseball before the season even started, on account of the new coach and his extremely demanding preseason routine which began in August. In Wayne’s words (post 1482):

Our school has hired a new baseball coach. He was a surprise hire as he was highly sought after from many other schools. To be honest no one really knows why he chose our school but we are very proud to have him.

This new coach is tough and hard. I mean he is really tough. They have started workouts which are 5 days a week 4 hours a day. The coach flat out told the boys he’s trying to make most of them quit. He wants to see who has what it takes to play for him. I think about 6 kids have quit so far.

To say I love this coach is an understatement.

It’s a long story but I fully expected [Leo] to quit. We’ve been having some trouble with him and in my mind I had just given up on him playing baseball anymore. So I knew this coach and my boy would “clash” and I figured he would just quit.

Something triggered in my boy….. he has bought into this new coach and my boy would never say it but I think he really loves him.

The other day they were doing long toss, and this new coach came running across the field in a full sprint and asked [Leo] this……

“Where did you get that”?

“Get what?” [Leo] asked.

“That arm!” the coach replied.

Confused, [Leo] gave a smart ass answer “I got it on my shoulder….why?”

The coach looked at him and touched his shoulder “how fast do you throw?”

“85 or 86” [Leo] answered.

The coach looked confused….. “son when we clocked everyone a few weeks ago you were throwing 81 and 82….why?”

[Leo] told him his arm wasn’t feeling good that day…..I know the real answer…. [Leo] was in one of his pissy moods and he wasn’t about to show this new coach his arm. I was there that day and [Leo] was just lobbing the ball.

Anyway, the coach looked at my boy and said…. “if you listen to me and do everything I tell you I’ll have you at 90mph by Christmas. I think I can get you to 95 before baseball season.”

Regardless if this coach can get him to that speed all I care about is my boy has really bought into this coach and is doing everything he says. These workouts are really really tough and he’s coming in everyday about to fall from being tired and sore. But he’s sticking it out.

Wayne was very happy to see Leo on board with this coach and continuing to play baseball. As for the coach talking 95 MPH before baseball season, Wayne knew and so did his forum followers that an increase of 10 MPH was hyperbole. But with hard work, 90 MPH seemed like a possibility.

The new high school coach was demanding in many ways, not just with intense preseason conditioning routines. He insisted that those who wanted to bat or play a position had to follow the appropriate practice schedule. Leo was willing to do the work to pitch, but as for hitting or playing an infield position, Wayne noted (post 1487):

I think he had the talent to go to the next level but simply did not have the desire. He stopped working hard long ago . . . my boy has decided (against the wishes of his coaches) to do nothing but pitch. He could be the starting SS but just doesn’t want it anymore. He doesn’t even want to bat because batting practice takes away from his “fun” time.

Excited as Wayne was about the new coach, it’s natural for anyone to wonder how much a coach can do in just one year. The coach himself admitted in an interview that running a baseball program isn’t just about having a JV team with decent 10th graders ready to step in when seniors leave. It’s about starting back in seventh grade and building from there. Maybe so, but his prior 5a team made the state semi-finals with a 43-9 record and was ranked 6th in the state in his last year with them, then had a 2-30 record the year after he left. Much of that was due to many graduating high-performing seniors, 9 of whom went on to play college baseball with scholarships. But a swing from 43 to 2 wins is pretty incredible no matter how you try to spin it.

To put it mildly, this coach was dedicated to doing whatever it takes to get the most out of his players and win at baseball. To put it bluntly, this former minor league baseball player was a baseball fanatic. Anyone could tell by the way he raised his 4 sons.

Tough coach

At one point in his life, after selling a small piece of land, his wife figured they were going to use the proceeds as a down payment to buy a house so they could move out of their trailer home. Nope. He spent over $5,000 on a batting cage, pitching machine, and other equipment so his 4 sons could practice in the backyard.

People thought he was crazy to spend so much on baseball equipment instead of a home. Well, maybe only a little crazy when they saw him coach the team with his two oldest sons all the way to Williamsport, where they won the Little League World Series. The crazy talk stopped altogether when two of his sons made it the major leagues, with a 3rd son in the minors. He was just as tough a coach with his own kids as he was with other players. Perhaps tougher.

True to form, this very same coach pushed Leo and his teammates hard to get better. In came the results . . .

The team started strong the first couple games, and then Leo pitched the game of his life. In Wayne’s words (post 1489):

Tonight is the night we’ve waited for since my boy was 9 years old……he did something tonight he has never done.

Tonight against the defending state champions my boy threw his first no hitter and struck out 13 while only walking 1.

It was quite literally the best game he has ever and I mean ever played.

So if it all ended tonight it was sheer joy to watch him perform at such a high level. Believe me….it wasn’t one of those nights where the pitcher got lucky…. he was unhittable. I have no idea how hard he’s throwing but it he is simply throwing fire. It has to be somewhere around 90mph….

Thank you God for tonight….. it brought back memories of when he was 11 and 12 and dominated teams. It was simply joy…..

Leo and his team both continued to play strong, with Leo beginning to regret that he hadn’t put in the extra work to be a hitter earlier in the year. In Wayne’s words (post 1504):

My boy pitched his second start (he did save one game the first game of the year).

He had a good night.

He pitched a complete game gave up 1 run, walked 1, had 4 hits and 10k’s. (We won)

He has not batted this year and doesn’t look like he will. He’s changed his mind and wants to bat but it’s too late. The other players put in the time and effort in the off season so they’ve earned the right.

Don’t know how his numbers will stack up at the end of the year but I don’t think he could do much better than he has thus far. One no-hitter and tonight’s game was a gem because he didn’t’ have his fastball. He had to fight every batter and use his off speed pitches.

As team wins and Leo’s terrific pitching performances piled up, a scout occasionally appeared at games, taking notes on Leo. Forum members were wondering if any colleges followed up to contact Leo directly. No. In fact, by this time Wayne had just about given up on Leo’s college prospects. In Wayne’s words, (post 1496)

No colleges no one has ever called us.

His size is a big drawback. They list him at 5′ 8″ and 185 pounds.

Besides his grades are terrible

And furthermore, (post 1512)

His high school coach is almost an expert at getting kids scholarships.

He currently has 3 sons playing in the major leagues and one is a star player [actually 2 major, 1 minor].

So his coach knows what he is doing. We are very blessed with him.

To be frank, my boy’s grades are so bad his only option is junior college. I’ve done all I can do. It is up to him now and it’s my job to support him. In my opinion he could be a stud at second base and even a pretty good SS. But he doesn’t want it anymore.

He is 18 now so it is time for him to step up and be a man….in the end it’s his life.

I told him he should play college ball and try to be a coach. It’s a great life to be around the game and make a living at it.

Forum members encouraged Wayne to keep thinking about college and nudging Leo to be proactive. With 4-year college application deadlines passed, Leo’s options were now just a few local community colleges or junior colleges. But that was no reason to give up. It was always possible to do well (both academically and athletically) at a two-year institution and then transfer the following year to a 4-year institution.

After winning more than losing for another few weeks, the team entered the tougher March part of their baseball schedule where they played against other large 6a schools. They started off losing a few games but they also won a game here and there.

Leo had a few outings where he gave up a few runs, often from errors. Sometimes scouts were watching. Forum members reminded Wayne that scouts don’t care about errors and who wins when they’re watching pitchers. In fact, they like being able to see a pitcher’s composure under pressure. But mostly they want to see velocity, command, and movement. What the fielders do behind a pitcher is irrelevant.

Leo’s team started winning. A lot.

After winning 8 of the last 9 games, it boiled down to the most important game of the season. Leo got the start. Here’s what Wayne had to say about the big game (post 1543):

Biggest game ever today.

My boy got the ball to pitch in the deciding game of the year. Win we go to the playoffs. lose and we were out.

He went 6 innings with 8 k’s 2 runs 1 earned and walked 1.

We won in the 8th inning!!!!!!!!!!

Playoffs here we come!!!!!!!!

With help from the new coach Leo’s school varsity team made their first playoff appearance in school history with a record 25 wins. The team then promptly exited the playoff after losing 2 games. It was an emotional ending. In Wayne’s words (post 1562):

Boy last night was tough… Not just the loss. But the end of a lifetime of work.

He pitched a complete game, gave up 1 earned run, and lost. Wow that was a tough way to lose. When you give up 1 earned run against one of the top 6a schools in our state you’ve really done something.

In the bottom of the 7th we needed 3 runs to extend the game. I peeked in the dugout and my boy had lost it. I think it hit him all at once that this was the end. He was crying like a new born child.

After the game all the kids and parents were crying. We’ve been playing with these boys all their lives.

Baseball can teach kids so much about life and the parents to. If someone asked me for advice I would say this…. Tell your kids to respect their coach, respect their teammates, respect the game and love it. After all baseball is more than a game. It is a reflection of our American way of life and our family institution.

Love the game, love each other.

Leo’s stats were posted publicly to Maxpreps and Wayne periodically copied these great numbers to the forum. The final numbers were (post 1568):

ERA 1.67
Wins 5
Losses 3
Appearances 11
Innings Pitched 58.2
Saves 1
Strike Outs 67
Bases on Balls 16
Home Runs Against 0
Batters Faced 265
Wild Pitches 4
Pick Offs 2

Despite the playoff losses, it was a great varsity baseball season for Leo’s school.

How did the new coach achieve so much in one year with this historically lackluster school? Wayne provided little detail, other than to mention the preseason conditioning and his tough, no-nonsense coaching style.

What Wayne did indicate was the reward this new coach received for the record performance. He got fired. Technically, he did the polite thing and resigned rather than force the administration to fire him.

In an interview after the firing, the coach was pretty blunt about the reasons. The administration and parents preferred a gentler type of coach, he said. People complained that he scared and intimidated kids, and he admitted that he pushed hard, was rough, and used blunt language because he wanted them to be great. He was not willing to change who he was and how he operated. Why change a proven formula for success?

He ended up returning to coach the high school he had been with for many years prior to his year at Leo’s school.

The firing was bad news for Leo because the coach had just started reaching out to junior colleges where Leo could fit. Leo was left without a high school coach to introduce him to college coaches.

With Wayne’s help, Leo did check out a local military school and a junior college a few hours’ drive away. The military school liked Leo but military life didn’t interest him, especially the haircut. The junior college didn’t seem worth it because he wasn’t offered a scholarship. How could Leo’s family afford it? Also, he was invited to be a walk-on. Invited walk-ons may practice with the team, but in most cases are offered little or no playing time and will not be invited to travel with the team. Players with baseball scholarships are usually given more opportunities. No thanks.

That junior college possibility was the one school his coach had contacted on Leo’s behalf before he was fired.

Weeks went by. Leo’s name got in the paper in June for making honorable mention for all area in the 6A class of schools. But still no plans for what he was going to do after high school.

Finally, at the end of July, Wayne and his wife decided to enroll Leo at the same junior college they had checked out earlier. It was more than 2 hours’ drive away. He was not getting scholarship money. He was an invited “walk-on” but Leo was unlikely to see much, if any, playing time. They could not even come close to affording it if not for a Pell Grant. But Leo was going to give it a go. In Wayne’s words (post 1619):

We have enrolled my boy in a jr college a couple of hours from where we live. He tried out for the team a while back and they only offered him to walk on. So he is going to try and walk on.

He will be getting a pell grant but we will be renting him a place to stay as well as all of the other expenses of college.

If any of you know of any other way to help pay for college I would appreciate your advice. Getting a school loan is out of the question. My wife is trying to pay hers and I only paid mine off a couple years ago. I will not put that burden on my family.

Some forum members didn’t think this was likely to result in much of a baseball future for Leo. For example, mudvnine wrote (post 1623):

I don’t want to burst any bubbles here, but unless your grandson is going to be starter on the team, or at least can be assured of some decent playing time….college baseball is a much greater toll on the student than I think most realize.

Being that your grandson has already tried out for the coach, and the coach only “offered him to walk on”, sadly, he is basically just telling your grandson that he’s welcome to try again, but his chances of making the team are highly unlikely….and if he does make the actual rostered team (and is not “redshirted” to the practice/concession stand squad), the chances of him getting any real game time is even slimmer.

I’m sure JettSixty can explain what his son is dealing with right now academically and athletic schedule wise. Baseball is a BIG time consumer at the college level. It’s nothing like that of HS ball, and many student/athletes struggle with the time management end of it……especially those who are housing on or near campus, and don’t have a set of parental eyes checking in on them here or there.

I only say this, because my oldest played a year of ball at a local JUCO…..and somehow forgot about the doing the school work that went along with it.

So he didn’t get a second year of baseball, simply because his mom and I pulled the plug on it, as he was there for an education, and not a “baseball career”.

We moved right after our youngest graduated from HS, so he too was like your grandson, as the local JUCO coach in our new area “offered him to walk on” if he liked…..

Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as his mom and I were concerned), he didn’t make the roster. Coach offered a “redshirt” spot, but know that that is just as big a time consumer, but with no game time…..he (with our encouragement) turned it down.

Now he’s continued to work out five to six days a week in the gym, followed by a couple hours in the local cages or on the field, with hopes of walking on again….but secretly, I hope that the same thing happens, and that he doesn’t make the team.

While he’s a better student than my oldest, there’s no way he’s going to fit in five or six hours of baseball a day, with school, and with his job at the local supermarket…..yes, he will have to continue to work if he wants a car, and the extra money for dating (he sure as hell ain’t getting it from me or mom).

Anyway, I took the long route to get to saying…..depending on your priorities, there is always the option of your grandson finding a job on campus to help supplement your finances in helping pay for his education. While it might not be a lot….at least he could make $8 to $10 an hour for those five to six hours he’d be getting nothing out on the baseball field.

Couple hundred dollars a week, would sure go a long way in help with his food costs, or part of his boarding, or books, or gas, or dating, or whatever it is….it’s a lot more than he’s gonna get from the baseball coach, and the time spent out on the field if he’s not playing on a regular basis (or even if he happens to be).

It’s all about priorities….and eventually, baseball can’t or won’t be the first one.

Just a thought, best of luck,

This was soon followed up by an informative response from JettSixty who went into much more detail about what it takes to play college baseball (post 1625):

I could start this post with “so you want to play college baseball” with an exclamation point. Or I could end it with “do you really want to play college ball?” Most high school kids can’t grasp the level of commitment unless they’ve been exposed to it by others. I played. But the commitment has increased since I played. My son got his exposure from his sister and friends of mine with sons older than he.

First off Mud is right. Your son already had a tryout with the coach. An offer wasn’t made. What he’s looking for this fall is significant improvement from the tryout. He’s going to be looking for a more bulked up pitcher throwing harder. I hope your son has been working hard on physical and velocity improvement and not just playing. The problem is it typically takes an entire off season for improvement.

I’ll assume since there was a tryout this is at least a middle of the road, competitive program that recruits. The coach has probably already found the guys he’s looking for. Some will become good players for him. Some won’t work out. Some will flunk out. But he probably has at least thirty or forty players in his head already for his roster. Only twenty to twenty two of them will get enough playing time to be happy.

The good news about JuCos is there aren’t roster limits. If the coach likes your son he’ll add him to the roster. The bad news about JuCos is there aren’t roster limits. How much mound time do you think your grandson will get as the twentieth to twenty-fifth pitcher in the team? If he makes the team his future could come down to how he does against one opposing hitter assuming he gets the opportunity.

Now for the time commitment. Here’s my son’s. My daughter’s was very similar for softball ….

Fall semester:

First off baseball players need to take all their classes before 12:30 so they can be on the field for practice by 1:30. My son shoots for three consecutive classes MWF from 9-12 rather than getting stuck with one at 8am. The reason being he has swimming for upper body strength M-F for an hour before class. So …

7:15-8:15 swimming

8:15-9:00 shower, eat, get to class

9:00-12:00 classes

12:00-1:00 lunch

1:00-1:30 locker room

1:30-4:30 or 5:00 practice

5:00-5:30 shower, locker room

5:30 to 6:30 dinner

6:30-7:00 locker room

7:00-8:30 weights, or agility (yep, after eating … have to eat sometime)

9:00 to midnight homework

up at 7am, repeat

Saturdays aren’t so bad. They have three or four hours of practice from 8-noon so they can go support the football team. Saturday afternoon and evening is the only social life he has.

Sundays are free. He sleeps until noon because he’s tired from not getting eight hours any night all week. Then watches the Eagles play. The late afternoon and evening is for catching up on homework except for dinner.

Practice ends mid-November. But they are expected to keep doing all the physical training. The NCAA allows athletes to participate twenty hours per week in their sport. If you add up the hours you will see it’s much more than twenty. It’s more like thirty-five hours. All physical training is optional. Try not going and keep your roster spot.

Spring semester:

Spring is easier. A JuCo (junior college) game schedule may differ. I’m not familiar with it. But I’ll bet the hours are about the same.

Thursday after classes: Leave for game destination, if away. Practice three hours and weights if home.

Friday am: Study, you’re missing classes. Class if you’re home.

Friday pm: Game

Saturday: Afternoon or evening game.

Sunday: Afternoon game. Bus ride home, if away. Homework on the bus, if away.

Monday: Practice for three hours after class, light weights for an hour after practice.

Tuesday and/or Wednesday: Non-conference games or one game and one practice and weights. It’s hard on homework and sleep if these are two or three hours away.

Thursday: Repeat.

The spring is a lot easier due to less physical training. But having finals before the season ends isn’t exactly a treat.

My son’s coach requires players to provide proof (professor’s signature) they attended class on Monday mornings after road trips. Sometimes these are eight to ten hour bus rides arriving back on campus in the middle of the night. On one ten hour bus trip Saturday was rained out. They played two on Sunday. By the time the bus left Burger King (great dinner after playing two) it was 8pm. They arrived back on campus at 6am. Monday morning classes required. Ever slept on a bus? I’m betting a Texas JuCo league has some significant bus trips.

So you want to play college baseball? You better be real committed to the game and getting passing grades. Another thing is most coaches don’t give a damn about your academics as long as you pass, stay eligible and help the team pass NCAA APR standards so they don’t lose scholarships. They don’t get paid for your grades. They get paid for wins and titles.

Unless you’re a stud for the team the coach is always looking to replace you. There are new recruits every year. My son’s roommate started his freshman and sophomore year. He came back junior year to find out he had been replaced by JuCo transfer. My son returned sophomore season to discover a position he thought he could win fill time was given to a JuCo transfer. You’re guaranteed nothing from year to year. Not even the scholarship.

My son has been a utility player for two years. He starts more than he doesn’t. When he doesn’t start he often pinch hits, pinch runs and sometimes goes in defensively after someone has been pinch hit for. He loves baseball. He can’t imagine not playing at college. But he sometimes calls and complains the game owns him and he feels trapped. I understand him because his sister felt the same way about softball. I felt the same way when I played college baseball.

Another thing is all eyes are on your behavior. You can’t mess up. My son was busted for underage drinking in the parking lot at a football game freshman year. He was fortunate by red shirting (injury) there wasn’t a headline, “Baseball player arrested for underage drinking” on the front page of the local newspaper in a college dominated town. He wasn’t known then.

Many baseball programs don’t require swimming, and the exact scheduling details will differ from school to school. But as JettSixty and mudvnine pointed out, college is much more difficult for athletes. Those who attend college as a student/athlete must develop very good time management skills if they don’t already have them. They must approach both their studies and their chosen sport very seriously.

Leo had never shown himself to be a very disciplined student, and it had been years since he had worked hard at baseball without a lot of prodding.

Wayne knew that forum posters had legitimate points. But he didn’t see any other reasonable options. In Wayne’s words (post 1626):

I would only respond by saying what else can he do? Personally I’m glad he is going to at least try. It would be easy to sit back and give up so at least he’s going to give it a shot.

I do know many many other boys his age who are good players and none of them got even a partial scholarship. From what I gather baseball scholarships, even partial, are hard to get.

I will say this. My boy is in the shock of his life. He thinks it’s going to be easy to make the team. He doesn’t realize there are many pitchers that throw in the mid 80’s.

Could Leo develop the work ethic he needed to succeed academically?

While Leo would get to practice with the baseball team, would he ever get an opportunity to play?

Part 10 of Leo’s story: College walk-on (Age 19, first year of Junior College)

 

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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