Leo’s Journey from Little League to College Baseball (College Walk-on)

This is part 10 (Age 19, first year of Junior College) 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.

Leo performed very well on the baseball field in little league, travel ball, middle school, and high school. But his grades, work ethic, and various other behaviors hampered any aspirations he may have had to attend college as a student/athlete playing baseball.

A couple months after high school, Wayne enrolled Leo in a two-year junior college located a couple hours away. He was invited onto the baseball team there, but as a walk-on, with no baseball scholarship funds available to support him during his first year as a student. Wayne helped Leo move into his apartment mid-August.

Would Leo be able to travel and play with the college baseball team?
(image courtesy Marco Bellucii)

A few days later, Leo attended his first college baseball practice. Wayne was excited to hear that Leo was finally practicing with a baseball team, but also uncertain whether Leo would ever get to play.

As described here and here, invited walk-ons do have more interest from coaches and opportunities than uninvited walk-ons. However, walk-ons have to perform at a higher level than players with scholarships if they hope to get any playing time. With no roster size limits, some junior colleges have over 40 players. Typically, just the 24 players with scholarships will travel with the team, or perhaps just 1 or 2 walk-ons beyond these 24 for players that the coach believes can contribute to team success. Typically, walk-ons are not invited to play with the team in the fall scrimmages either.

Leo received some encouraging early signs, though, as he tried to prove his worth as a pitcher. By the end of August, Wayne reported (post 1634):

Looks like my boy is in for a fight to get any playing time.

I will say this he told me the head coach pulled him aside last week and just gave him some words of encouragement and let him know that he sees him and is happy with his work.

Also, (and this will give you an idea of how much I’m grasping at straws for news……lol) my boy told me a couple of days ago he threw the best bullpen he’s ever thrown. I said, “out of the thousands of bullpens that was your best ever?” he said “by far”.

He said he didn’t know how hard he was throwing but he said he’s never thrown harder….. I know one college coach got him at 86mph so he must have been throwing at least that hard.

Anyway, while my boy was throwing the bullpen the pitching coach stopped him to talk. The coach asked him was he a scholarship player or a walk-on? My boy said “walk-on.” The coach came right out and asked him “why didn’t anyone pick you up?” My boy just said “I don’t know.”

Anyway, they’ve only been in camp for a couple of weeks but at least my boy is getting some kind of notice.

On the downside he made a bad grade on a test but on the upside he is panicked over it. In the past if he made a bad grade he really didn’t care (high school). So at least he is starting to put forth effort on his grades.

I’m told they are going to have a practice game next week. I’ll update if [Leo] gets any playing time.

And the news turned much better a week later. According to Wayne (post 1635):

Pitched his first college game today (practice game). Everyone played and [Leo] pitched one inning. Allowed one hit no runs scored.

After the game the coach told him he hit 87 mph (they gunned everyone) and told him he was going to let him travel with the team.

Wayne was still a bit uncertain about the traveling but confirmed it a few days later (post 1641):

Pretty big news today… My boy wasn’t sure until today but…..

The coach informed him that he made the traveling squad and will travel with the team during the fall schedule.

Doesn’t sound like much but it’s pretty big news to us.

The team was told only scholarship players could travel so it’s pretty good that [Leo] has made the team.

!!!!!!!!

This was a very positive development. The coach clearly believed that Leo could contribute with his pitching. Then, a week later Wayne reported (post 1646):

Pitched his first real game today. 2 innings gave up 1 run, walked 2, struck out 2.

He got his first win!

Leo continued to get more pitching appearances. Leo was invited to a special tournament with at least one game against a Division II school. In Wayne’s words (post 1660):

His jr college team is going to play against a top d2 school. Coach said only last year [sophomore] students and a couple of scholarship players would make the trip.

About a week ago my boy went to the coach and asked “coach what have I got to do to make the trip and play against the D2 school?”

After practice yesterday the coach pulled my boy aside. He said he had never had a Freshman ask to pitch against one of the top schools before. Most players are scared of getting knocked around.

My boy will be making the trip as the only non-scholarship player.

Chances he will play are slim but it is very positive to earn his coaches respect.

He did pitch two innings in the tournament (though it turned out not to be D2 schools after all) and it looked like he had earned a spot as a regular pitcher for the team.

And then, abrupt news from Wayne, out of the blue . . . (post 1663):

Bad news… Long story.

Coach called my boy in his office said your off the team. No discussion [get your equipment] and leave.

A few days ago a girl on the softball team rolled [toilet paper on] my boys car. The next day [after] her car was rolled, someone poured oil on her car. My boy didn’t do it as he was home visiting me 3 hours away. Well the girl went to his coach and said my boy must have poured the oil on her car in retaliation of her rolling his truck. She said she didn’t see him do it but it had to be him.

Coach calls my boy into his office and kicks him off the team.

A few hours later the girl learns that another girl on her softball [team] poured the oil on her car and she confessed. They are friends she did it as a joke.

Meanwhile my boy is off the team.

Coach would not even listen to my boy or consider his side.

It appeared as though Leo had finally made it onto a college team for real, not just as part of the practice squad. And then he was off the team. No notice. No recourse. The reason he was given was not even accurate. Leo was very upset, and so was Wayne. A few hours later, Wayne learns more details (post 1670):

She said she didn’t see him do it but it must be my boy because she rolled his truck the day before. The coach took that and would not even listen to my boy.

Later in the day the girl who did it found out my boy got kicked off the team and confessed. She is supposed to go talk to the coach but as of yet she hasn’t.

It’s a mess and I’m sick over. I honestly think my heart is about to give out.

And one day later . . . (post 1686):

Just heard from my boy. Both girls went and told the head coach that it was a mistake and they were sorry. All I know is the coach simply said he was not letting my boy back on the team. That is all I know if I knew anything else I would post it.

Coach will not return my email nor will he talk to [Leo].

I do know before this happened my boy was one of only 2 non-scholarship players traveling with the team and was playing. He had the best stats on the pitching staff.

I just don’t know. My heart is broke.

Experienced coaches and other forum participants shared their points of view about this episode. Like Wayne, they did not have access to all the facts of the situation. Yet their comments were informative. First from Ursa Major (post 1683):

Presumably the school has (a) some sort of Honor Code that can penalize students for lying, including for raising demonstrably false charges against others, and (b) a student conduct office by which students can report wrongdoing done to them by others. Usually schools want these matters initiated at the outset by the students themselves, so it would behoove [Leo] to go into the student conduct office and find out how such a report could be made if he chooses to do so. Then, he can contact the girl and explain what has happened and explain to her that – if she and the others who apparently did the deed to her car don’t go to the coach and/or the AD, [Leo] will be forced to initiate a student misconduct proceeding to clear his name. He can explain that he has no desire to get others in trouble, but if the misconduct of others will essentially end a baseball career that he’s struggled to keep alive over the past ten years unless the matter is straightened out, he will have no choice.

With this said, let’s step back a bit. First, it’s October, so give the baseball coach a couple of days to hear what’s happening and then see if [Leo] can go and talk to him again. Maybe a quick note or email can break the ice – something like, “I would like to talk to you about your decision to dismiss me from the team based on unsupported allegations that I damaged someone else’s property. As I explained to you, I was not even in town when it happened, and I understand that it was the teammates of the complaining student who have since confessed to the act. Please let me know if there are some issues or facts that I’m not aware of that are impacting this situation, so I can address them. Please understand that the opportunity to play baseball for this team is one of the most important things in my college life, and I trust that you would not want that opportunity to be lost based on a misunderstanding that is easily straightened out.” If the coach doesn’t respond, you have a pretty good argument to get higher-ups involved, albeit as a last resort.

Stepping even further back: it doesn’t make sense that the coach would stick to the dismissal if someone else confessed. Either there’s something else going on, or you’re not getting the full story from your boy. He’s made mistakes before and has been slow to own up to them. So has my son – it’s part of sending them off to college. So, let him know that if you go to bat for him and there’s something important that he’s not telling you, he not only reduces your effectiveness as an advocate, there will be severe repercussions.

Then from mudvnine (post 1687):

I was sitting on the sidelines on this one, because I was having a hard time finding the appropriate words to voice what Ursa said so diplomatically [in that last paragraph].

Unfortunately at the HS over the years, I had the unpleasant job on several occasions, of removing a player from the squad for code of conduct violations.

All I can tell you is that during the player/parent meeting that happens in roughly 25% of the cases, it’s amazing at the “information” that the parent comes to the meeting with, compared to the information/facts they leave with.

Not once did a parent meeting ever get the student reinstated on the team, and for the most part, I don’t believe a single parent thought the player should have been, after learning the real reason(s) for the dismissal.

Now I’m not trying to implicate [Leo] of any wrongdoing, or trying to play judge and jury in this case…only stating that sometimes, what is told to a parent or loved one as the reason for dismissal, is not always 100% the case of the real happenings in the event(s).

I wish the best for [Leo] and hope that in this case, it truly is just one big misunderstanding.

Then ralanprod (post 1688):

If I take everything as written as being true, then the coach probably doesn’t want to reverse the dismissal because it is an admission that he probably overreacted in the first place.

At the same time there is also the possibility that he just doesn’t want to have to deal with drama, and right or wrong – drama was dumped on his desk in relation to your son.

We can sit outside of the situation and say that the coach is being unreasonable, but we might feel differently if it was us that had to deal with it as it unfolded.

And finally, JettSixty (post 1689):

He probably wasn’t going to make the team. Stats in fall ball aren’t a big deal. Some players are working on something and sticking with it regardless of the result. This situation just made him an easy cut. Had he worked himself up to where he would have been a factor in the spring he might have received a hard slap on the wrists. Unfortunately it means he’s not on the team to have a shot at being a factor the second year. The other possibility is there’s more to this story than you’re being told. But coaches don’t have any patience with marginal players. A walk on is considered marginal until proven otherwise.

What your grandson learned is baseball will live on long after his baseball days are done. No one is that important. Coaches don’t like hassles. Coaches really don’t like exposure to the college administration over problems with their athletes.

This doesn’t mean your grandson is done playing baseball. He should be looking now for the most competitive summer team environment he can find. I don’t know JuCo transfer rules. If he transfers in January I don’t know if he’s eligible for the spring. While it may not be possible to make another school’s team in the spring maybe he could work a deal where he keeps score or is an equipment manager in exchange for getting in some practice time with the team. There’s also transferring after the first year. Another angle is to get into the right summer league and make JuCo coaches aware he’s pitching there.

He better come up with a good version of the truth about what happened at the current school. The tendency will be not to believe him.

The full details of this incident will never be known. However, the commentary from Wayne’s forum thread suggests that a walk-on’s position on a team is tenuous to begin with. If anything goes wrong, anything at all, the simplest action for a coach is to cut that player from the team. It’s hard enough to coach a team even without the extra drama. Sounds brutal, but that’s how it works. So grades, behavior, health, etc. have to be very good. Always.

Leo may have also learned to pick his friends carefully, especially given that something he loved was at least partly contingent on (the perception of) good behavior.

A couple days later, Wayne provided an update (post 1694):

My boy was waiting to tell me till he came home to visit but a couple of weeks ago he was informed he was getting an 80 percent scholarship starting next semester.

Of course this was before everything happened.

We have found out through other sources that my boy was telling the truth and everything happened while he was at my house 3 hours away.

Today my boy went one last time to talk to the coach to explain he wasn’t involved and wanted to be on the team.

The coach said no.

My boy asked why?

Coach said he did not believe the girls when they apologized and basically said they were lying to protect him.

My boy has gotten calls of support from his high school coaches and teammates. It helps that they are supporting him.

Life isn’t fair sometimes it kicks you in the gut. To be honest I don’t want him to play for a coach that doesn’t support him so we will move on.

I’m not sure how things work but these few weeks he’s proven he is at least a D3 college player. So I’m going to see what I can do to find him another school.

Forum members were sympathetic after seeing the latest from Wayne. For example, Forum_jedi wrote (post 1696):

The coach sounds like an *******. There are a lot of them out there. My first year of college was at a juco several states away from home. I broke my wrist the third game of the spring season crashing into a concrete outfield wall. I kept playing for a few more days, but it was really starting to hurt, so I went to the coach and told him I thought I hurt my wrist. He told me to go see a doctor. I had no car, but I had good teammates and one of them let me use his car.

I came back in a cast on my throwing hand and the coach said, I guess it’s broke; that was the last time he spoke to me until the season was over when he told me he was cutting my scholarship because I didn’t contribute (my wrist was still in a brace).

I moved home, got my release and went to a local juco the next year. It all worked out in the end as I got a scholarship to a good DII school after that. It was a good life lesson.

I hope it all works out for your son. Just tell him to stay positive.

Just a day later, a glimmer of hope returned as Leo’s high school coach went to bat for him. According to Wayne (post 1698):

Update;

My boy’s high school coach talked to another college coach. The last game my boy pitched a couple of weeks ago he pitched against this school and had a good outing.

Anyway the coach said he remembered my boy from that game and invited him to his team. He did say he was out of scholarships but if my boy played for him he guaranteed him a scholarship the next semester.

All this is happening fast and we have the rest of this semester to discuss it. To be honest it would be nice if he could get at least a partial scholarship to help us financially.

And then, there was silence. Five months later, Wayne finally reported in (post 1707):

I want to apologize to everyone for not posting updates. To be honest my heart wasn’t in it.

After he got removed from the team at his college his grades went south…..fast. The end result: he lost his grant to continue college so he was unable to attend the other college that he planned to attend. Besides…..I couldn’t get him to go and sign up.

It’s pretty much been a mess and [Leo] isn’t doing anything at all now….nothing.

My wife says he will be able to apply to attend college next fall and that is our plans at this point. Before you even ask is he working on his game to try and make the team? No nothing.

At this point it looks like his baseball life is over and we are just trying to get him to face life head on and move forward.

It’s such a shame…. it really is.

Thanks for all the support on this thread throughout the years. If by some chance he attends college and attempts to play again I will post an update.

In the summer, Leo at least joined a quality travel team. In Wayne’s words (post 1713):

[Leo] got a call from a 19 and under travel team. From what I gather they have a history of being a very good team. [Leo] tried out for the team and made the roster.

They played 3 games this weekend and he is the starting shortstop and pitched two innings. He said his arm isn’t ready to pitch just yet.

I can tell you I’ve never seen (in person) the talent I saw on the baseball field this weekend. Wow these boys (all of them) are very very good.

I can’t tell you how much of a joy it was to watch him play this weekend…..just pure heaven. I loved every hot 95 degree in the hot sun second of it.

[Leo] said he really really misses the game and he’s hoping to get noticed and maybe play again somewhere at the college level.

Few people in life get a second chance so maybe he can work hard and….. well who knows.

This baseball team didn’t last too long and Leo continued to basically do nothing at all. Wayne received several suggestions from forum members on how Leo could move on from baseball and go on with the rest of his life. A couple people also suggested that he find some way to coach baseball to stay involved. While Wayne appreciated the suggestions, he didn’t really know what to do with it because Leo was mired in a funk that made it hard for him to even get out of bed in the morning.

Leo’s baseball life was over, and he wasn’t coming to grips with it.

Except it wasn’t.

In mid-September, Wayne reported an incredible turn of events (post 1730):

Out of the blue [Leo] got a call from a college coach (d2). Great school. Seems some boy that is on the team that my boy didn’t even know told the coach about my boy.

He asked [Leo] to come down. The day he got there they were having a practice game. [Leo] got in and pitched 3 innings. He faced 11 batters, struck out 7, walked one and grounded out the others.

They were gunning him and he topped out at 88mph. Coach said his average fb was 85-86.

Coach got one of the players on the team and said go show this boy his new dorm.

Things happened so fast we don’t know the details yet.

Big day!

The details were unclear, but Leo was being given a second chance to play baseball in college as a student/athlete.

Would Leo get a scholarship? Would Leo do a better job with grades this time around? Would he choose his friends more wisely?

Above all, would Leo mature, making better choices, so he could continue to pursue his passion for the game of baseball?

Part 11 of Leo’s story: Second Chance at College (Age 20-21, Two Years of Community 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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