Leo’s Journey from Little League to College Baseball (Second Chance at College)

This is part 11 (Age 20-21, second chance at 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.

It will be a long time before another part is written after this one. This is a true story, which as of the end of part 11 is up-to-date (June 2017). It will be at least a year before there is enough new material available to write out the next part.

This last post (for now) is long enough that I broke it up into sections to make it a little easier on the reader.

Leo overcame many obstacles in his long journey from little league to college baseball. What will he have to overcome next?
Image courtesy of Robert Montenegro at crookedscoreboard.com

Leo overcame many obstacles and setbacks during his years as a young baseball player, made all the harder by rarely being proactive on his own behalf, not taking his studies seriously, and sometimes simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The old adage, “if you’re good enough, they will find you” may apply to the very best few thousand high school ball players in the nation each year. But it does not apply to most players, and it certainly did not apply to Leo. Except . . .

They did find him. Well, sort of . . .

Pitch Well and Maybe they will Find You

In mid-September, just a couple months shy of his 20th birthday, Leo got a call from a college coach who asked him to visit and pitch 3 innings in a practice game. He faced 11 batters, struck out 7 and walked one, while the others grounded out. At the end of the game, the coach asked a player to show Leo his new dorm.

Leo was about get his second chance at college baseball!

It took a few days for Wayne to fully understand the details of what kind of school this was, what they were offering Leo, and what needed to happen next.

Given that the school was a two-year state community college, full baseball scholarships were awarded to 24 players. The coach of this two-year NJCAA Division I school wanted Leo to be on the team and to have a full scholarship as soon as possible. But it wasn’t going to be quick and easy, as there were many rules to navigate.

Leo was very fortunate that the head coach was willing to do so much to get him on the team. In Wayne’s words (post 1746),

[Leo] and [my wife] are down at the school today signing him up for the class. The coach met my wife and him in the parking lot. He told my wife that [Leo] will stay in the dorm and WILL keep his grades up! He also told my wife that [Leo] has a serious arm and throws damn hard with control.

Leo needed to have 12 hours of credits this semester in order to be eligible to play with the team in the following semester. But the semester had already started. After exploring several alternatives, the coach managed to get Leo signed up for 4 online courses for the current semester. Wayne was relieved at the way it worked out and in mid-October reported (post 1749):

Coach gave my boy 4 classes. His grades from his former college were so low that he cannot legally give him a scholarship.

So the coach personally got him 4 courses to take this semester. To help my wife and I out he gave him 4 online classes [which he could complete at home].

He told my boy if he doesn’t make all A’s in these classes there will be no scholarship and he will not be allowed on the team.

I know nothing about this coach but…. I love him.

It’s all up to [Leo] now.

Leo successfully completed the online courses with straight A’s. In January, he moved to his new school, 6 hours away from home. He roomed with the catcher in a dormitory and was required by his baseball coach to cut his hair short. He devoted himself to his studies and within a few weeks had his first practice game. In Wayne’s words (post 1763):

[Leo] called. They had their first practice games today. I wasn’t able to go. The coach has made him the team closer. He pitched two innings, struck out two and didn’t allow a hit.

He was excited when he called and it was great to hear.

So far he has all “A’s” in his classes but it is early. It sounds like he is giving 100% effort and is having a positive attitude. He loves his coach and talks highly about him.

The season starts next week and with the distance it’s going to be difficult [for me] to see him play. I am very very pleased so far.

And one week later, Leo pitched in his first actual game (post 1769):

[Leo] had his first college game that was not a practice game.

Let me say I saw some really good talent on both teams. Amazing talent.

He didn’t play the first game but he was the closer for the second game. Let me say both teams had great pitchers but neither team in either game had a pitcher strike out the side.

[Leo] came in to close the last inning and struck out the side in 12 pitches!! It was a great night.

That’s not all… He has all “A’s” in his classes so far!! All “A’s”!!!!!!

So so so proud of him.

Who would have thought when I started this thread so many years ago that I would someday post [Leo] is a college pitcher. What a wonderful journey this has been.

It got even better (post 1777):

Just got a call from [Leo]. He pitched 4 innings struck out 2 gave up 1 hit and no runs!!!

From what I’m told this was against one of the best teams in the country as they were ranked 4th in the nation preseason.

Awesome!!!!

A couple weeks later, Wayne finally got his first chance to see Leo pitch (post 1782):

Update: got to go see him play this weekend.

Gave up his first run. Gave up 2 runs in total one was earned.

He is keeping his grades up so things are going well.

I will say this…. I’m shocked at the high level of play that is in D3 [school is actually NJCAA Division I]. I had no idea. All the players are very good. Lots of fun.

Leo continued to perform well both on the field and off the field. By the end of March, Wayne reported (post 1789):

[Leo] has truly impressed. Every change I hoped college/baseball would offer him has happened and far far more.

He’s has turned his life completely around. He has bought into his coach hook line and sinker. He has all A’s in his classes and most important has made a new set of friends (teammates) instead of the kids he hung around with the past few years.

I can’t begin to post here the positive changes in his life but I am very very proud of him.

His goal is to improve and go to a [NCAA] D1 school. I think he’ll make it.

NCAA Division I baseball was still an unlikely outcome for Leo, as Wayne was promptly told in the forum thread. 87-89 MPH is good for a right-handed pitcher (especially when, like Leo, he also has a curveball, changeup, and reasonably good control) but that kind of velocity, combined with Leo’s school history, was not enough to earn a transfer to an NCAA Division I school with a baseball scholarship. Also, it was not particularly important for him to be on a prestigious NCAA Division I team where the competition for spots was so intense that any stumble could cause him to lose his place on the team.

What was important was that Leo was where he needed to be right now, and doing very well with it. He was valued by his coach and teammates, making great friends, and getting straight A’s in school.

Being the team’s closer, Leo sometimes went for a few weeks without pitching, as his coach typically only brought him in near the end of the game when the score was close. But he continued to do well when called on to finish a game. He was even drawing some interest from Division I NCAA college coaches, though the interest never turned into substantial conversations.

Athletic Scholarship

Great as the year had been so far, nothing came close to the excitement Wayne felt, when, in early May, Wayne reported (post 1818):

[Leo] called and said he got a full scholarship today.

Very proud of him.

Ten days later the official scholarship papers arrived. Tuition, room, and board were all to be covered.

Leo didn’t play any summer baseball but a couple months shy of his 20th birthday he started his second year of college, this time with a full scholarship. It started off very well. According to Wayne (post 1853):

Played his first fall game today. Pitched the last 4 outs. Came in with bases loaded in the 8th with 2 outs. Struck out that batter.

Struck out 3 gave up one hit.

They had a gun on the scoreboard. He said his fastball was sitting on 87 and 88 consistently.

Very good first game of the year. Sad I had to miss it but work you know….

Several days later, Leo did very well at a showcase. According to Wayne (post 1854):

Got a text from little [Leo]. He’s crazy happy.

His school sent a few of the sophomore players to a showcase. Well here is the text from [Leo].

Sorry for my language but you can let it slide this one time! IM PUMPED AS A #%#%.,?%# Threw every pitch for a strike! Curveball was crazy nasty! I sat 87-90!!!!! . . . .

He hit 90mph . . . reports say he is working very hard.

Yet Another Coaching Disaster?

After this great start in September, Wayne didn’t say anything else until two months later, when he reported the first bad news in over a year (post 1865):

Sorry haven’t posted in a while.

It’s been a mess at [Leo’s] school. The head baseball coach got suspended pending termination for most of the fall season. Last week he came walking back on the field, he got his job back.

The result is they played almost no off season games. It was a mess.

All I know is they had a big tournament. According to the newspaper there were 25 D1 scouts and 15 pro scouts at the event. Once the head coach saw who was umpiring he told the players to get back on the bus. It’s crazy. A few days later he was pretty much fired.

It was all a mess.

As with many other setbacks over the years, this one came as a big surprise. After coaching this school for 30 years, leading the team to 9 division championships, 3 regional championships, and roughly 1000 wins, this storied coach was placed on paid administrative leave.

This coach had served a 10-day suspension the prior year after being ejected for two games, but it was unclear whether this had anything to do with the administrative leave. The only thing the school said publicly was that it was investigating a personnel matter.

Over the next few months, things did not go well under the new head coach, and Leo was not so excited to be on the team anymore. It all came to a head in March, when Wayne reported (post 1885):

It’s a mess at the school. From what I’m hearing the [new] head coach has gone nuts. They are still early in the season playing against what I call “warm up teams”. They are getting beat left and right.

[Leo] has played one inning. He was suspended for this past weekend’s games. He said he missed a team breakfast.

Last year the head coach was fired. All I hear is rumors and don’t really know why. A few months later 32 of the players went to the school athletic director and said they were leaving if the head coach didn’t get his job back.

Important: [Leo] did not go.

Out of the blue the [old] head coach came walking onto the practice field and said he was back. He turned to his pitching coach and told him to sit on the stands he wasn’t coaching anymore.

So the pitching coach left and so did several players.

So far the season is a disaster. Not to mention the head coach recruited his own son to play SS. Not only is his son playing he is playing every pitch of every game (even double headers).

[Leo] is stuck. You can only play 2 years at Juco and no 4 year school will consider a player who doesn’t play.

With all this said a lot of fault goes to [Leo]. Instead of complaining he should get better and do everything the coach demands. Like it or not it’s the coach’s team. Not his!

We’ll see how it all plays out.

Leo had been especially upset that he got very little playing time, but he finally got some and it revived his spirits (post 1895):

He finally got to play again.

Pitched one inning. 3 up 3 down one strikeout. He said all his teammates started yelling words of encouragement and cheering him on. He was excited his teammates showed so much support for him.

When he got in the dugout his coach told him he was sure all of his fastballs were in the low 90’s. Said he looked great.

He seemed excited.

We’ll see how the rest of the season goes.

Many forum participants over the years had reminded Wayne that baseball has its ups and downs. Leo’s experience of baseball over the years seem to have ups and downs even more extreme than most, and Wayne had a tendency to experience mania with the ups, and depression with the downs. Yet again, JettSixty reminded Wayne (post 1897):

This is why it’s important not to get too excited when things are going well and not too down when things aren’t going well. It’s not always easy. But it makes the journey easier to deal with.

Yet Another Injury?

Unfortunately, a couple weeks later, Wayne reported yet another downturn (post 1902):

Sorry I haven’t posted. Just not a lot to update.

[Leo] has had some arm problems for a few months. He’s been going to therapy but it’s not improving. It’s some kind of muscle in the back shoulder blade or something.

I think they are shutting him down till he gets an MRI.

I will update when anything changes.

Followed by (post 1905):

[Leo] has to have surgery.

He has a torn labrum. 3 weeks in a sling than 3 or 4 months to recover.

His baseball might be over. Don’t know how we could get a 4 year school interested.

Followed in mid-April by (post 1910):

[Leo] had his surgery yesterday. Doc said it went well.

From what I read on Google a torn labrum is a worse injury than I thought.

One bit of good news his coach filed the papers to let him redshirt this year.

Wayne reported how the coach handled injured Leo when the playoffs came in early May (post 1914):

[Leo] is on his way home.

His coach did something I’ve never heard a coach do. Maybe it’s how college is, I don’t know, but it’s one of the worst things I’ve heard a coach do.

The season is over today and they made the playoffs.

The coach sent all the players on the injured list home as well as all the red shirts. Because of the rules in the dorm all of the players were forced to move out and leave school.

The coach pretty much kicked 20 players off the team while they go to the playoffs.

[Leo] is very upset and frankly feels sh*t on.

What a crappy thing to do to the players who have been part of the team because they are injured and can’t be part of the team.

Several forum participants quickly piped in that this is standard procedure. Players with no hope of getting any playing time will not accompany the team to the playoffs and such players have no need to stay in their dorm beyond the end of the school year. Saves money. Furthermore, any injured player is susceptible to being completely ignored by the coach after injury. For example, Forum_jedi noted (post 1918):

My Freshman year I played at a JUCO in Texas. I broke my wrist in the second game of the season. The coach never spoke to me again.

It came as no surprise when Wayne reported in early June (post 1921):

[Leo] is going through the long slow rehab.

He got a letter from his coach today… he is not offered a scholarship for next year.

Brutal, gets hurt playing for the team and well…. I guess this is just how things are.

In June 2017, Leo’s baseball career is once again on hold. Arm injuries are the end of many a pitcher’s baseball career, but not always. For example, “Tommy John” is a popular name for a surgical procedure which has a very good success rate for reconstructing Ulnar collateral ligaments. Jeff Passan’s The Arm is a book published in 2016 that describes this procedure, the rehabilitation process, and many other aspects of wear and tear on pitcher arms.

Leo’s injury was not an elbow injury like Tommy John. It was a torn labrum, a piece of fibrocartilage (rubbery tissue) attached to the rim of the shoulder socket which can be repaired surgically and usable within a few months after rehabilitation. Unfortunately for pitchers, only a small percentage are able to pitch again after labrum surgery and rehabilitation.

Time will tell whether Leo will be able to pitch again. The odds are not good.

1923 Forum Messages from Start to Finish

Leo’s story cannot be told further until he lives more of his life, and Wayne chronicles more of Leo’s story. However, enough of the story has been told that it’s possible to look at the nearly 2000 forum posts as a whole. Several forum posters have done just that. My favorite was this post written by Roothog66 (post 1353) in early 2013:

I want to say that I have had an experience that very few of you have probably been lucky enough to have. I’ve been aware of this thread over the past few years, but only once came into it. In that instance, without having read the thread, I simply jumped in on the argument of the day which happened to be radar guns. After that, I never came back because, frankly, when I figured out what it was, it really didn’t interest me.

Over the past three days, I have read this thread from beginning to end. This, of course, took more time than reading a lengthy novel. I could not stop. My eyes are shot and I ignored work, but the read was a very compelling one. I agree that this should be the springboard for a book once the journey is over, [Wayne]. In fact, it would be even better if this thread didn’t have to end for another decade. I really feel that I got something out of it I would not have gotten if I had been following it post-to-post over the years. I have literally laughed, cried, been surprised and overjoyed, angered and depressed. Wow! Additionally, it isn’t hard, by the way to figure out exactly who the kid is and verify that [Wayne] has been downright honest about everything. It took very little research to locate everything needed to figure out this is in no ways a fictional account.

The beauty of this thread has been [Wayne’s] absolute devotion to baring himself to a sometimes hostile crowd. We have to admit that we’ve all seen a little of ourselves in [Wayne]. [Wayne] has just voiced all the things many of us have been afraid to say. Further, [Wayne] never backed down when it turned to personal attacks. It would have been easy for him to just abandon this, but he never did. It was interesting to see his naive opinions early in the thread and educational to see some of the things he has struggled with. This is more than the story of a youth baseball player or even an account of father/son or grandfather/son relationships. [Wayne] has allowed us into his mind. To see ourselves through him. This is a psychological look that we have been blessed to be able to interact with. [Wayne] opened my eyes to my own relationship with my own son in ways that I could have gone my entire life without understanding.

It goes so far beyond baseball. We even get glimpses of [Wayne’s] own struggles beyond that relationship. I know, for example, that [Wayne] has struggled with having to give up his own dreams for what he perceives as reality. I can tell he wants to give “his boy” every opportunity he can, but that he is limited and further feels that he cannot pursue his own dreams.

I want to share something with you [Wayne]. I used to feel the same way and have gone through many of the same things. I’m just a few years younger than you, but thought long ago that I had to give up the idea of what I one day wanted to do with my life.

I had a job that always paid enough to make things comfortable. Just enough to not make it worth it to go after what I always wanted to do. Then that all came tumbling down. It was an opportunity disguised. I returned to college, completed my degree in three years with a 3.98 GPA (damned Roman History professor gave me a B) and earned a full scholarship to a top 40 law school at the age of 42. Now I make other decisions to balance my life.

I’ve been working the past few years as a law clerk. If you don’t know what that is, it’s very prestigious work for a judge, but it doesn’t pay much. I’ve had plenty of offers in the private sector which pay three to four times what I make now. I do it because it is a 9-5 (well, 8-4, but you know what I mean) job that allows me to continue to coach and to enjoy the ride. I also live in a world that doesn’t have many 50yo law clerks. I’ve been all the way through this journey with two daughters, but this one has been special and I won’t miss a minute of it.

I see you are starting a new career, but don’t give up that dream. Your writing can reach a lot of people. Let it. I will be ordering your novels because I want to help and I want to learn more of what you have to teach. I’ll also pass the info along to others and encourage them to do the same. Keep on trekking, [Wayne].

Roothog66 followed up with a summary version a year later (post 1519):

I just wanted to put this little word in. If you are new to the website and have a younger player, stop reading now (or rather in a sentence or two) and start this thread from page #1. It is a daunting task and might take you several days, but if you want a primer on what is coming your way over the next few years, this thread is by far the best look through the looking glass you will ever get.

Wayne summarized the thread as well, quite a few times. Here are two of my favorites (post 606):

Down through the years I’ve posted my thoughts on this thread regarding [Leo’s] sports (mostly baseball). I realize there have been many ups and downs. As I look back I realize I’m a very lucky person, very lucky indeed.

I’ve been lucky enough to see my boy hit a homerun in the state playoffs. I’ve been lucky enough to see him be the ace pitcher on the best middle school team our school has ever had.

I’ve also been lucky enough to see him fail and to see him grow.

I’ve seen him lose to our cross town rivals but I also reminded him that day that he should feel honored that his coach had enough faith in him to give him the ball on the team’s biggest game.

Yes there have been many many ups and downs but I wouldn’t trade either for anything. Baseball is more than just a game…..it’s more of a chance of sharing with your kids. I think baseball helps kids grow and to learn about life. I don’t think my boy would be the boy he is today if he hadn’t played baseball. It’s not only influenced his life but the lives of our entire family. In short it has been a joy. As he moves on to junior high and then high school I will always remember the days when I watched him grow. It has been a joy and I’m the most blessed person alive.

And then (post 1834):

This thread has [taken on] its own life.

I think it’s more about the journey now than the destination.

It is my hope that others can read through these many years and learn from my mistakes, there are many. Lots I would do different but it’s all been a joy.

This is the greatest game in the world. Baseball has the ability to teach us all about life. I’m not talking about just the kids but the parents as well.

I don’t know where or when this journey will end. The day he plays his last game I will close the thread. Maybe [site moderator] Jake can leave it up for others to read but in the end it is about baseball. As it turned out it’s about baseball “and” how it effects our lives.

Maybe there is a book here but I doubt I’ll write it unless an agent works with me.

This amazing thread actually started as a question, which I never quoted because it became such a minor detail to the overall story. I’ll end this with that original question from Wayne which started it all (post 1):

I have a question. I am coaching Little League again this year and I am wondering about my boy.

He has what I think is an amazing arm and I recently clocked him throwing 50mph. He is ten years old.

Does anyone know what is very good (speed) for a ten year old? Is 50mph just average, better than average, good, or great?

Oh and BTW: Yes I do stress strikes. This is just something I am wondering about.

Thanks

This question launched a lengthy and controversial discussion regarding radar guns. Is it appropriate to use radar guns on youth pitchers?

So why did I not discuss the question which started out this whole thread? And what is the answer to the Ultimate question of life, the universe, and radar guns? Simply put, I didn’t think it was important to Leo’s story, nor do I think it’s of major importance to developing young ballplayers in general. It’s a tool. As I already stated in the first post to this series:

While use of radar guns before high school age is controversial, Wayne noticed that the gun inspired Leo to improve his mechanics.

While asking this question on the Baseball Fever Baseball 101 forum inspired a lot of debate and controversy, Wayne soon became inspired to share the details of Leo’s baseball career for over a decade thereafter.

Wayne shared his thoughts and shared them well. Readers of that thread and this retelling of it have benefited tremendously.

Thank you Wayne, a.k.a. Sparksdale!

Part 12 will not be available for at least a year, if ever. The story you just finished reading brings you up-to-date as of June 2017. If you want to follow the actual thread instead of waiting for another “part” to be written, this link (post 1921) will get you started where this part left off. If the Baseball Fever site is down when you visit, try again a couple days later and it will probably again be accessible.

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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