Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prep baseball players endure heat for shot at college ball


It's hot. Almost too hot to do anything.

With the sun blaring down on a baseball field, even at 5:30 in the late afternoon, Clarksville High's field is almost unbearable.

The trees that line up just behind the first base dugout block out the late afternoon sun, but it can't decrease the heat.

It's 95 degrees and the Clarksville Orioles' 18-and-under travel team is in the midst of its first game of a doubleheader against the Brentwood Bulldogs.

"This is what we do every day," Orioles outfielder Will Thomas said. "If you can't take it you shouldn't be out here."

This is life for high school seniors on their way to college baseball. For those who have yet to ink their names on the dotted scholarship line, the summer heat and ball is a chance to get noticed.

Summer baseball teams are the norm around the country. It's what gets you noticed by the bid dogs. It's the parade in front of college and sometimes pro scouts.

In basketball, they call it AAU.

In baseball, they could call it a heatstroke.

"It takes commitment," Orioles coach Jared Hill said. "You have to want to play. You have to have the passion for it or else you're not going to last. It's too grueling for someone who's just kind of into it."

Travel teams dot the landscape these days and it's growing in the midstate. The Orioles used to travel to Memphis, Knoxville or Chattanooga to find opponents. Now they stay within reach of Clarksville, often traveling to Gallatin, Hendersonville and Nashville.

"We'll go there, play a couple of games and we're able to get back in a decent time," Hill said. "It's much better now. There's no more two-night stays in a hotel."

Hill has been coaching the Orioles for the past two years. The organization was reformed in 2007 after a three-year hiatus and it includes a 13U team coached by new Clarksville High baseball coach Brian Hetland.

Since the Orioles' return, games have been plentiful for the team. They play a 39-game schedule and play doubleheaders in 15 of those games.

"It's a lot of games," Thomas said. "Your legs get weary when you have to play three or four straight days of doubleheaders. By that fourth day in the second game of that day, you're pretty beat, but you have to dig deep because you never know who's out there watching."

Nine of the Orioles' 17-man roster will either play or attempt to play college ball next year. Thomas, who played for CHS, has already signed with Tennessee Tech. Motlow picked up Wildcats' catcher Tyler Wilson and Northeast star Johnny Newsom while Austin Peay will be getting CHS shortstop Reed Harper. This spring's District 10-AAA MVP, Cole McWhirter, will join Jackson State Community College this fall after pitching for district champs Clarksville High and teammate (third baseman) Paul Mittura is expected to walk-on at Middle Tennessee State.

But Thursday, the Orioles were upended by the Bulldogs, 2-1, in seven innings. A pair of singles led to a run in the top of the seventh, breaking a 1-1 tie for the Bulldogs and spoiling Justin Dailey's strong pitching performance.

The Orioles had six hits and tied the game 1-1 after two walks led to McWhirter's run-scoring single in the bottom of the fifth. But Brentwood crossed the plate in the seventh and held the Orioles' bats in check in the bottom of the final frame.

The game, however, won't diminish the team's desire to play again. They're scheduled to face the EWA Knights at noon and 2 p.m. Monday at Clarksville High.

Hill and his coaching staff, as well as team, relies on parents to often carry the financial load of this travel team. It's an expensive venture with a budget of $12,000 a year. Hill said the team spends every bit of it for a summer's worth of games.

"We're not looking to make a profit," he said. "We're looking to break straight even. It costs a lot. Some of these tournaments we go to cost $1,100 or $1,000. Some cost around $500, so it's not cheap by no means."

Yet the valuable tools gained from travel ball give players like Thomas an advantage.

"Maybe I don't get a chance to go to Tech if I'm not out here in the summer time," he said. "Yeah, it's hot out here, but a little sweat is worth it."

George Robinson is the prep writer for The Leaf-Chronicle. He can be reached by telephone at 245-0747 or by e-mail at georgerobinson@theleafchronicle.com


Monday, June 29, 2009

Harper looking for a challenge


CARY, N.C. -- Bryce Harper recently announced he will take his GED, leave high school after two years and enroll at the College of Southern Nevada this fall. This should make the Las Vegas High School catcher eligible for the 2010 Rule 4 draft, when he'd be the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick.

This move -- expected among major league scouts and team executives since last summer -- has raised all manner of questions and stirred up controversy over who is making the decisions for Harper and whether he is making the right move.

Playing on Tuesday at the Tournament of Stars event held at USA Baseball's stunning complex, Harper is the nation's best high school player right now. The same was true a year ago, when he exploded onto the scene at the Area Code Games as a rising freshman, a 15-year-old facing and dominating competitors who were mostly 17 and 18. He's been hitting against older competitors for years; Harper has earned invitations to play on travel teams of older players since he was 10 years old.

He's played in prestigious events, including the Area Code Games -- which he called the biggest baseball challenge he's faced and a "phenomenal experience" -- and on the national team in the age 16 and under division. He's a potential five-tool talent who plays the most difficult position on the field. He puts on a display in batting practice, launching balls out to right field with a sound so loud it leaves bystanders looking for the shattered-bat remnants.

One problem extremely talented prep players like Harper can face is the lack of a challenge. Harper has had no trouble hitting against high school pitchers in Nevada or in summer ball, and in high school he finds himself pitched around frequently.

"High school was a great experience for two years, I loved it," Harper said Tuesday. "I just want to get out of there where I'm getting walked 40, 50 times a year."

His father, Ron, put it more bluntly: "I think his overall average was around .630 with the playoffs, and [he] didn't really get pitched to; that's not a lot of fun for him. There's a lot of frustration there."

Budget cuts in Nevada have made matters worse, according to Ron Harper, reducing the regular season for Las Vegas High to 18 games. At the College of Southern Nevada, Harper will be able to play 60 games, and will do it in a more challenging environment.

"College is going to push him academically, and also on the field it's going to push him," Ron Harper said. "He's going to play a lot of older guys, bigger guys, stronger guys, for 60 games."

At CSN, Harper will play in one of the top junior college baseball programs in the country. The 2009 nonconference schedule included games against most of the major two-year programs, including Central Arizona, San Jacinto (Texas), Miami-Dade and Chipola (Fla.). The school also uses wood bats, which should ease the transition into pro ball. Harper prefers wood bats -- "I've always wanted to swing the wood. If I could have swung the wood in high school, I would have" -- but couldn't use them in high school games.

Harper's readiness on the baseball field, at least for the jump to junior college, isn't really in question. His readiness for the emotional or mental challenges to come is more difficult to ascertain, although to his credit he recognizes that at some point he's going to fail.

"There's always going to be failure; baseball's a game of failure," he said. "If you K, you can't go back on that game and say, 'Oh, crap, I went 0-for-4.' There's a million more games to play. You've got to get better, you've got to progress. You can't say, 'Well, I K'd that game so I'll just quit.' It's a team game; as long as your guys won, that's what matters."

As for the increasing pressure as he moves up the baseball ladder, Harper isn't concerned.

"I love pressure," he says. "If there is any pressure on me, I thrive on it. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, I want to be that guy. We played Cuba last year, in the 16U [age 16 and under] championships. I came in the last inning. I pitched. It was the biggest pressure of my life -- don't lose the game for the USA -- but it was awesome, a great experience. I've had pressure on me since I was 8 years old."

Ron Harper has come under fire for what some members of the media argue is a dereliction of his parental duty. Bryce is still a minor, and Ron has ultimate responsibility for his son. Ron says he's happy to take the criticism if it allows Bryce to concentrate on playing, and for his part, argues that this was a family decision.

"I said, 'Are you sure you want to do all this? It's OK -- you can always go back to high school'," Ron said. "But he said, 'No, Dad, I want to do it. I want to do it.' And people say, well, you're the adult, you need to make that decision for him, but he's a pretty mature kid, and he's a good kid, and the level of baseball that he's been playing at, and the level of school he's been at, he needs to be pushed. And I believe that, and my wife and the coaches and the whole staff from the HS believe it too."

If Bryce wants to take this step, and all indications are that he is ready to do so, why would his father stand in his son's way?

In fact, much of the hue and cry over Harper's plan to leave high school two years early is rubbish. If Harper is eligible for the 2010 draft after his first year of junior college -- and he should be, although Ron indicated he has yet to receive a "100 percent answer" on that question from MLB -- he'll be 17 years and almost eight months old on draft day.

That would make him just two months younger than Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk were June 9, when they were selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Marlins' third-round pick, Da'Shon Cooper, is one year to the day older than Harper. None of their fathers were criticized for allowing their sons to enter pro ball at such a young age.

Inevitably, there's also a backlash in the scouting community, among the same scouts who dropped what they were doing at the 2008 Area Code Games to watch every one of Harper's at-bats. On Tuesday, when one scout learned I was writing a piece about Harper, he said "Don't feed the machine," referring to the tremendous hype that already surrounds the player.

It's perfectly natural for a talented player like Bryce Harper to want to be challenged further when he has already shown he has mastered his current level. It's not the place for anyone, including MLB or the media, to deny him the chance to succeed or fail at a higher level of play. The smart money is on him succeeding.

Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Championship special for Mainieri, father


Pat Borzi
New York Times News Service


OMAHA, Neb. — With a gold streamer from the victory celebration dragging behind his left foot, LSU coach Paul Mainieri yelled for his players to gather for the College World Series championship trophy presentation. Then he started looking around.

“Where’s my dad?” he said.

Demie Mainieri stood about 15 feet away in a CWS championship cap, but Paul could not find him in the crowd. In the aftermath of LSU’s 11-4 victory against Texas in Game 3 of the championship final, Demie Mainieri — the longtime coach at Miami-Dade North Community College who won a national junior college title in 1964 — beamed as he watched his son and the Tigers players celebrate.

“This is really something, isn’t it?” Demie Mainieri said. “This was his dream, and I’m so happy for him. It wasn’t something that was easy for him.”

Especially Wednesday night.

The Tigers led by 4-0 after two innings, with the tournament’s most outstanding player, Jared Mitchell, pulling a three-run homer inside the right-field foul pole in the first.

But Texas, which rode a streak of improbable victories and late magic through the NCAA tournament, rallied against the LSU sophomore right-hander Anthony Ranaudo. Kevin Keyes, who slammed his bat in the first after striking out with the bases loaded, tied the game with a two-run homer in the fifth.

The Longhorns (50-16-1) discombobulated in a sloppy five-run sixth inning. A throwing error, a passed ball and two hit batsmen led to four unearned runs as LSU won its sixth national championship since 1991 and its first under Mainieri.

Reliever Brandon Workman, after three scoreless innings, walked Mitchell, a No. 1 pick of the Chicago White Sox, leading off the sixth. Catcher Cameron Rupp mishandled a high fastball for a passed ball. Mikie Mahtook, who at first tried to sacrifice, doubled in the go-ahead run.

A throwing error by Austin Dicharry, who relieved Workman, on a Micah Gibbs bunt kept the rally going. Derek Helenihi drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and LSU (56-17) tacked on three more with two outs against the Longhorns’ closer, Austin Wood. Wood hit consecutive batters to force in a run before Sean Ochinko’s two-run single made it 9-4.

“I knew, once they tied the score, we’d be OK if we could go out and get a run or two,” Gibbs said. “To go out and put up a five-spot was incredible.”

Chad Jones, an outfielder who lost his job after leaving for spring football but returned as a situational left-handed reliever, retired five of the six batters he faced after replacing Ranaudo with one out in the sixth. Louis Coleman, who started Game 1, worked the final two innings. After striking out the side in the ninth to finish off the game, Coleman threw his glove so high that Gibbs grabbed him before it landed.

Wednesday’s loss denied Texas coach Augie Garrido his sixth national title. The Longhorns have lost twice in the final since the CWS switched to a best-of-three format in 2003, and won in 2005. But it enabled Paul Mainieri to match his father’s national championship with his own, 45 years later.

“In the ninth inning, all I could thing about was he and my mom, said Mainieri, who embraced his father and his mother, Rosetta, on the field shortly after the trophy ceremony. “This afternoon, I thought about how disappointed it would be for my mom and dad not to see us win a national championship.”


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nevada prep baseball phenom: 'I'm not LeBron yet'


This article was found in USA Today.

CARY, N.C. (AP) — Bryce Harper didn't flinch with television cameras focused on him, even though his upper body was tangled in microphone wires.

"Part of life, I guess," the 16-year-old quipped Tuesday.

And it has been since the baseball phenom announced plans earlier this month to skip his final two years of high school, take an equivalency test and play next season at a Nevada community college — a move that could accelerate the catcher's professional career.

Harper, who recently appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball's Next Big Thing, has embraced the hype and attention.

"I'm not LeBron yet," Harper said, referring to NBA star LeBron James, who also appeared on the SI cover as a teenager. "He's doing bigger and better things. He's in the pros. He's doing all his stuff and has endorsements, and all that good stuff. I can't say I'm LeBron yet. I'm Bryce Harper. That's what I am.

"You can't really just rely on that" hype, Harper said. "I love the target on my back, and I love how scouts come out and watch, just all that stuff. I've just got to keep getting better."

Harper's hope is that the improvement comes quicker at the College of Southern Nevada next spring than it did at Las Vegas High School.

Saying he modeled his game after Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose, Harper hit .626 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI as a sophomore this year. That, despite what he said was a lack of strikes thrown by pitchers determined to work around the slugger who hit the longest home run in the 12-year history of the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium, a 502-foot drive that came in a home run derby and off a metal bat.

"High school, you know, it was a great experience for two years, but I just wanted to get out of there (after) getting walked 42 times a year," said Harper, who is in the Raleigh suburb of Cary to play a week-long tournament with his American Legion team at USA Baseball's training center. "I really wanted to swing the wood bat — if I could have swung the wood in high school, I would've.

"I'm not really skipping anything. I still get to go to the prom, still get to go to homecoming, still get to go do all that fun stuff. I get all the good things and just don't have to ... deal with the high school stuff, all that drama and everything. It was time to get out."

Harper's father, Ron, insisted the decision had nothing to do with giving his son a premature push into the 2010 baseball draft because "I haven't even gotten a 100% answer whether he is going to be eligible." Players may enter the draft at age 16 if they have completed high school.

"A lot of people say, 'You're the adult, you need to make that decision for him,"' Ron Harper said. "He is a pretty mature kid, and he's a good kid, and the level of baseball that he's been playing at, he needs to be pushed. I believe that, and he believes that."

He also brushed aside the criticism that his son has shortchanged his education, and said Bryce's backup plan is to become a fireman.

"We've taken every step to go in that direction (toward the draft) — if that works out, then so be it. If it doesn't, then Bryce will be playing again in junior college, which is fine with us," Ron Harper said. "We're planning for four years of college. ... It's just that now, he's moving on just a little sooner than everybody else."

Ron Harper also dismisses any notion that leaving school early is a bad idea.

"They're thinking, 'Here he is, setting his kid up for failure,"' he said. "When I put him on the baseball field when he was 3 years old, I set him up for failure, because it's a game built on failure."

Bryce Harper isn't worrying about failing.

He's well aware of how many can't-miss phenoms in baseball managed to do exactly that, and he doesn't want to be another one.

"I want to be the best guy ever, the best player who ever played the game," Harper said. "I'm not going to sit back on everything, say, 'I'm on the cover of SI, I'm doing this, I'm doing that.' ... I'm not where I want to be yet. This is a stepping stone. I just want to get better, play the game and hopefully be in the big leagues one day."


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's Down To One Last Game


Anybody that doesn't think that the NCAA College World Series is the greatest college sporting event in amateur sports isn't a sports fan.

This entire series has been one dramatic moment after another. The Championship Series showcases two titans of collegiate sports. The Tigers of LSU are 5 time CWS champions and the Longhorns have netted 6 championship trophies.

ESPN couldn't not be any happier with this series from a ratings standpoint either. Both teams have rabid fans across the country. Rosenblatt has been loud, rowdy and at fever pitch through the first two games. At the turnstiles, LSU is the king of college baseball. The Box packs in an average of 9,600 fans a game and over 400,000 for the season.

Take note NCAA...that's way more total fans than the Tigers Basketball team. In fact, that 400,000 total is more than most Big Conference programs draw for football in a season. Any chance that we can take this information and use it to increase college scholarships?

The Longhorns don't do too bad at the gate either. In a a newly refurbished UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Texas drew over 6,000 fans per game this year and it seems that they brought that entire nation of fans to Rosenblatt. More than half of the faithful in Omaha are dressed in Texas Orange.

Despite the weather issues, and the economy, Rosenblatt has never looked better. The CWS attendance total of 316,090 is the second-highest total in the CWS trailing only last year’s total of 330,099. According to one of our colleagues, there is a different kind of electricity in the air this year due to the high stakes nature of the two universities that are competing.

As much as America was charmed by Fresno State and Oregon States improbable wins, I like this match-up of two of the top sports programs in America. Texas and LSU are no strangers to championship games. Longhorn Division I programs in both men's and women's sports have won 47 national championships. LSU has won 43 national titles.

Now, the season is down to its last game. For many fans of this great game, it will be a bittersweet ending to the season. But, based on the drama that has been a hallmark of this series, it should be a perfect ending to an exciting season.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

L.S.U.’s Coach Follows Father in Quest for Title


By PAT BORZI
Published: June 21, 2009
OMAHA — While Louisiana State Coach Paul Mainieri supervised his team’s last workout before the College World Series finals, his father, Demie, handled another challenging task: organizing lunch for the extended family on Sunday at an Italian restaurant in the city’s Old Market district.

Three generations of Mainieris are here to watch the Tigers, the nation’s top-ranked team, play Texas in the best-of-three N.C.A.A. championship series at Rosenblatt Stadium. Demie, known as Doc, knows about title aspirations. He guided Miami-Dade Community College North to a national junior-college championship and later became the first junior-college coach to reach 1,000 victories.

“There’s no greater feeling than watching them and seeing him do so well,” he said, referring to his son in a telephone interview. “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, to be honest with you. He has a great feel for people.”

Paul Mainieri said: “Having my dad here means everything to me. Growing up, all I wanted to be was a college baseball coach. My dad won a national championship in 1964, and I’d love for him to witness his son doing it.”

But never in Demie’s 30 seasons at Miami-Dade, coaching the future major leaguers Steve Carlton, Mickey Rivers, Mike Piazza and Bucky Dent, did he face the expectations of fans and boosters the way Paul does at L.S.U.

The Tigers won the last of their five national titles under Coach Skip Bertman in 2000, when a single game decided the championship. L.S.U. fans have been waiting impatiently for No. 6 ever since.

Bertman’s chosen successor, Smoke Laval, failed to deliver in five seasons and resigned in 2006 after the Tigers missed the N.C.A.A. tournament for the first time since 1988. L.S.U. has led Division I in attendance the last 14 seasons, and many Tigers fans book trips to Omaha well in advance, presuming the team will qualify — and win.

“At L.S.U., it’s Omaha or bust,” catcher Micah Gibbs said. “If you come here, and you don’t come back with a trophy, it’s hard to show your face.”

Into that pressure stepped Paul Mainieri, who left Notre Dame after 12 seasons. L.S.U. made it to Omaha last year in Mainieri’s second season, winning one game before being eliminated.

“When I was coaching,” Demie Mainieri said, “I was also the athletic director, so nobody was going to fire me. We had expectations, but nothing like this. They get 10,000 people a game.”

Of his son, Demie Mainieri said: “He was very secure at Notre Dame, but he said he always had an urge to coach at one of the best baseball programs in the country. He talked to Oklahoma, Mississippi State and Kentucky, but he said, ‘I want the best one.’ Then Skip hired him. He knew what he was getting into. He knows the expectations are there, and he’s not afraid of them.”

This year, L.S.U. took off after a bold move by Mainieri to improve the infield defense 40 games into the season. He inserted the freshman Austin Nola at shortstop, bumped D J LeMahieu to second and rearranged his outfielders.

Though L.S.U. has hit nine home runs and played errorless ball to win its three Series games handily, the Tigers (54-16) hardly expect it to be a breeze in the finals. Top-seeded Texas scrapped its way to Omaha for the first time since winning its sixth national title in 2005.

In the Austin Regional, the Longhorns (49-14-1) needed 25 innings to beat Boston College, 3-2, in the longest game in N.C.A.A. history. The next night, Texas trailed Army by four runs in the ninth before scoring eight times to win, 14-10, on Preston Clark’s game-ending grand slam.

At the College World Series, Texas defeated Southern Mississippi with a bases-loaded walk in the ninth, came from six runs down to beat Arizona State and eliminated the Sun Devils on Friday with ninth-inning homers by Cameron Rupp and Connor Rowe.

“The way we’ve been winning the last nine games, we’ve added a new assistant coach, David Copperfield,” said Texas Coach Augie Garrido, a reference to the illusionist. “Somebody asked me if we were going to practice. Practice? How do you practice the way we’ve been winning?”

Garrido, seeking his sixth national title and third with the Longhorns, will pitch Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.27 earned run average) against L.S.U.’s ace, Louis Coleman (14-2, 2.68 E.R.A.) in Game 1 on Monday night. Garrido, like Mainieri, knows his team’s vociferous fans will be satisfied with only one result.

“In Texas, second place doesn’t get it,” he said. “Finishing second would be a disaster in a long line of disasters.”


Monday, June 22, 2009

Where Is The Criticism?



Authored by Andrew Perna - 18th June, 2009 - 8:32 pm

Bryce Harper recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and was boldly anointed baseball's "chosen one" and "the most exciting prospect since LeBron."

On Sunday, just a few weeks after the issue hit newsstands, Harper made his decision to forgo his final two years of high school public.

The 16-year-old from Las Vegas will use a GED to enroll in a community college this fall. He hopes that the decision will allow him to become a professional baseball player sooner rather than later, making him eligible for the 2010 MLB Draft.

It's relatively common for kids with bloated IQs to enter college early, so why shouldn't Harper take his swollen talents into the collegiate ranks two years early?

For one, Harper isn't making the jump so that he can begin practicing medicine in time to cure swine flu.

Colleges, and high schools for that matter, are for learning. That's why each institution was created, but so often that's not exactly what they are used for these days.

Recently, NBA prospect Brandon Jennings was railed for skipping his freshman year of college to play basketball in Europe. The guard's decision was prompted by a failed entrance exam at Arizona, and one year later he's on the same path as his one-and-done peers that made an ever-so-brief stop in college.

While Jennings was criticized, it should be pointed out that Jennings obviously wasn't made to go to college. It's sad that we have to think this way, but his test very easily could have been fudged along the way to make him an eligible Wildcat.

Doesn't he have Derrick Rose's cell number?

Jennings is now thought less of because he couldn't get into college, while Harper has escaped major criticism (many have supported his decision) for skipping his junior and senior proms to enter a community college.

Baseball, long a reactionary sport, has always escaped major condemnation.

Don't tell me that steroids ruined the game, at least as a business. Ratings are still good, tickets are still selling and the game is just as marketable as it was prior to the "shocking" revelation that some of our favorite, and most beloved, players were injecting foreign substances into their backsides.

It took a few bold writers (I commend them) and Jose Canseco, yeah I said it, to finally open baseball's eyes to the issues at hand. Bud Selig played dumb, and most either believed him or simply turned away. As a business man first-and-foremost, can anyone honestly believe that he didn’t know everything that was going on?

Slugging stars continue to fall from the skies today. In the last four months, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa have all by exposed as cheaters, but, for the most part, we still love them.

It is because baseball, while no longer in the same realm as football in terms of popularity, is still this nation's first love?

The NFL is knocked for its rookie pay scale, Michael Vick's dog-fighting scandal (which is somehow worse than Donte Stallworth's DUI that resulted in the death of a man) and super egos like Terrell Owens.

The NBA is railed for its age limit (which could be primed for another amendment), the often corrupt events that take place in AAU and collegiate programs and the belief that its players aren't the most intelligent men in any given room.

While every league is flawed, how do more people not see Major League Baseball as the most imperfect of all?

Basketball was widely criticized for allowing young men to make the jump from high school to the NBA just days after their graduation, so they instituted a rule forcing kids to wait at least one year after high school to enter the professional ranks of their craft.

It didn't matter that some of these kids either weren't cut out for college or simply had no desire to attend. All that really counted was the NBA looked more a little better in the eyes of critics for forcing kids to "grow up" a little more before becoming millionaires.

The rule change ultimately led to Jennings' decision, and will undoubtedly drive more high schoolers to choose Europe over college in the coming years. Especially if the league opts to change the rule once again; forcing kids to either attend college for two years or wait two years after their last geometry class to enter the league’s draft pool.

If an 18-year-old can sign up for the Army and defend his country in Iraq, risking his life for the safety and freedom of his countrymen, why can't he make at least a few hundred thousand dollars playing a game that he loves?

That's long been the contention of Jermaine O'Neal, who came into the NBA right out of high school, and has been a vocal critic of the league's age limit.

That brings us to baseball. A game that not only allows players to be drafted right out of high school, but gives them to option to survey what kind of money that can make before deciding whether or not college is worth it.

They also have one of the strangest draft rules in all of sports, forcing players that do go to college to stay through at least their junior year (or when they turn 21 years old). The rule might keep players in school for two more years than the NBA does, but the results are the same, if not worse.

An overwhelming majority of players that do attend college simply leave before their senior year. We'll get into those numbers a little later.

The structure of the drafts are vastly different -- 60 players are drafted each June in the NBA against more than a 1,000 in MLB -- but can you imagine if players were allowed to weigh the rookie minimum before deciding whether they should play a season or two under Jim Calhoun?

It's not publicized much, but that's exactly what hundreds of the kids that were selected in last week's First-Year Player Draft are deciding right now. Should they sign a contract for anywhere from five figures to seven, or follow through on their commitment to a given school and see where they fall in the draft three years from now?

The decisions that young baseball players, and their families, are given allow them to be much more money-driven than their basketball counterparts.

If a basketball player decides to play in college for just one season before entering the NBA because his troubled family needs an influx of cash, he's looked at as a greedy youth. However, a baseball star can weigh his options and see whether he'd make more money and have better opportunities going pro right out of high school or after playing in college.

And don't think that just because players have the option to follow through on a college commitment that they are locks to eventually earn a degree.

The Wall Street Journal published a story on Tuesday that revealed a startling fact. Only 26 major leaguers (including managers) have earned college degrees. The Athletics are the "smartest" team in baseball, with an astounding three graduates on their roster.

We are talking about roughly 800 men here. That means roughly one in every 30 professional players has a degree. That means just 3% of players have a fancy piece of paper hanging in their house's sixth extra bedroom.

To baseball's defense, a large percentage (27) of players come from Latin countries. The educational system in the United States needs work, but its light-years ahead of the institutions in place south of the border. In the interest of fair analysis, let's exclude Latin players from the equation.

Using 800 as a base, 216 of baseball's current players are Latin American. That leaves 584 players with the great opportunity of turning their talent into a free college education. Still, just 4.4% of such players have actually followed through and graduated.

Without Latin players in the mix, one in every 23 earns a degree. Basically, we are talking about one player per team.

To baseball's credit, they have at least attempted to help players continue their education. Major League Baseball has created a College Scholarship Program for its players, but the numbers indicate that few players take the ball and run with it.

Part of the reason could be that the baseball season occupies so much of the calendar year, but you often here stories of NBA players returning to school for their degrees.

The NBA's season runs from training camp in September to mid-April for half of the league, and June for at least two clubs. Baseball, meanwhile, runs from late February to early October for most, and November for a select few.

That means the average basketball player has four full months off if his team fails to qualify for the postseason, while the average baseball player has three full months and substantial chunks of both October and February.

The time is there; even if NBA players have the advantage of summer sessions.

In the 2008 NBA Draft, 20 of the 60 players picked attended school through their senior year. The number was the same in both 2007 and 2006. It's safe to stay that the percentage of college graduates in the NBA is much larger than three percent.

The easy answer for the huge variance in criticism is race.

A majority of the players that enter the NBA each June are African American, while most that enter MLB are either Caucasian or of Latin descent.

That's the simple answer, though. It is undoubtedly the reason for some of the disapproval, but baseball's reactionary nature is the main one.

Baseball's draft is extremely flawed, and for whatever reason isn't nearly as controversial as basketball's system.

Commissioner Bud Selig claims that his league is held to a higher standard when it comes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps that "higher standard" should be applied to the draft process as well.


Andrew Perna is Deputy Editor of RealGM.com and co-host of RealGM's Radio Show. Please feel free to contact him with comments or questions via e-mail: Andrew.Perna@RealGM.com.

Friday, June 19, 2009

College baseball teams from cold climates strike out


RT Staff Note: We have commented on this scenario before. Baseball is no doubt a regional sport. Other than Minnesota, (they play a lot of their home games in the Metro Dome), northern teams have to travel south to play the first half of their season. This makes it tough to gain any momentum or rally the home fans to support their teams. Here's and article from the Des Moines Register that mirrors our thoughts on College Baseball in Cold Weather states.

Omaha, Neb. — Before they dropped a piano on its head, the Northern Iowa baseball team opened the season with 23 straight road games. Ohio State played more contests in the state of Florida this spring (25) than it did in the state of Ohio (23).

If you really want to get serious, there are two ways to preserve big-time college baseball in the Midwest. The first is for every Division I school north of Branson and east of Salt Lake to dome their stadiums. Good luck with that.

"People aren't too thrilled to sit out in cold weather in a not-very-nice ballpark," offered Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, who has piloted two different schools from two different regions — Nebraska and the Razorbacks — to the College World Series. "They want to see some things that draw them to the park. Some beauty in it."

You could use a lot of words to describe Waterloo's Riverfront Stadium. "Beauty" isn't one of them.

The second idea is to delay the start of the regular season. A number of coaches have suggested an opening date of April 1, just as the NCAA basketball tournaments go riding off into the sunset.

It makes perfect sense, too, until you ponder the end of the slate. Assuming teams need 13 weeks to finish out a regular season and another four for the postseason, that would move the College World Series to - um, the first week of August.

Omaha, no surprise, is not particularly crazy about that idea. Neither is the NCAA.

"The answer, of course, is that we've got a pretty fixed event here on the back end," Tim Weiser, deputy commissioner of the Big 12 and chair of the NCAA Division I baseball committee, offered Tuesday at Rosenblatt Stadium. "We're not going to be able to do much with that."

And there you go. The last true cold-weather school to win a College World Series was Wichita State in 1989, if you're still counting. The Big Ten hasn't placed a team at Rosenblatt since Michigan in 1984.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, the Pac-10 and the Southeastern Conference accounted for five of the eight schools in this year's field. The leagues combined for six of the eight in 2008; four of the eight in 2007; and six of the eight in 2006. If you play where it snows in April, brother, good luck getting your ticket punched.

"The problem is, it's still, to an extent, a regional sport," said Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association. "And if you don't have people around you playing it, it makes it more difficult to start it up. It makes it easier to drop it if nobody in your region has it. It's not like football, where you go play on the weekend ... the longer you've got to travel, the more expensive it's going to be."

Money wasn't the only reason why the Panthers dropped baseball after 103 years, but it didn't help. Northern Iowa led the life of a typical small, Northern program: Spend the first four weeks of the slate on the road, touring the South or the West, trying not to get your brains beat in while eating giant holes out of your budget. Return home in late March to the cold and the nonexistent crowds that don't help your bottom line, either.

By mid-April, when winter's finally given up the fight, you've only got a month left of games to play. No wonder there's no tradition, no fan base. No wonder Nebraska and Wichita State were the only Midwest schools to crack the top 20 in home attendance in last year.

"I don't know if you'll ever be able to completely level the playing field," Weiser said. "The truth is, I'm not sure there is a way to completely level it."

Weiser's committee meets next month. Considering that the NCAA collected more than $9 million in gross receipts from the '07-08 Division I baseball postseason, second only to men's basketball, don't expect someone to start rocking the boat.

Register sports columnist Sean Keeler can be reached at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What a Great Game This Is


I am a West Coast apologist. I make no bones about that. I live, breathe and fanatically defend the undeniable talented college and youth teams and players in the baseball states west of the Rockies. Baseball participation (from players and not always fans), is as big out here as football is in Florida and Texas and basketball is in North Carolina and Indiana.

So, when my West Coast favorites take a hit in the showcase events like the CWS, I take it personally and am left scratching my head as to what happened. Maybe it’s because on average, 475 or more players get drafted from the western states, draining schools of maintaining a consistent balance of power. This year, a lot of high draft picks were high school pitchers, further watering down the talent of bullpens across the western conferences. But then again, a high percentage of Texas, Florida and Georgia players get drafted every year as well.

Maybe the tough conference schedules take a toll throughout the season. The conferences here are brutal…but then so are the SEC, ACC and Big 12 conferences.

So what is it? Maybe there’s nothing wrong. Maybe it’s just that college baseball teams all around the southern and western parts of this country play darn good baseball and that it’s just the luck of the draw. Could anybody have predicted with a straight face that Fresno State would win the National Championship last year? Did anyone think that Oregon State would win not one, but two CWS Championships back to back? Can anyone really predict who will win this year? No.

However, we all can agree that each team that was and still is in Omaha , fit the bill of a formidable competitor and all deserved the chance to wear that crown. Some tried, but didn’t live up to that billing and some are still trying. But baseball is a game of an infinite amount of numerical chances and the more the experts try to break it down, the more the predictions break down.

Tuesday night’s game between Arizona State and Texas could not have been more wrongly assessed. Some will tell you that both starting pitchers grossly underperformed, others will say that the hitters over performed and others will say that one coach out-smarted the other. The debates will never end and I absolutely love that part of the game.

I say…THAT’S BASEBALL. Embrace it, love it, and support it…just the way it is.

The more I think about it, the more I feel how proud we should be of how far this extraordinary game of college ball has evolved. I couldn’t be happier that we are having heated discussions on which conference is better than the other and who has the best OOC, RPI, ISR and other alphabet soup measures of success. It means that we CARE about this great game and the implications of a prestigious series, conference or national tournament win.

Those are the kind of emotions that helped popularize and propel football and basketball into hugely profitable sports. The same can and will happen with college baseball as long a s there are outlets like ESPN, CBS Sports/Gametracker, Rivals, and other regional message boards helping stir up the controversial issues and feeding us the games.

And the greatest thing about college baseball is that seems to never end. After the last out of the final CWS game is recorded, the attention switches to the collegiate summer leagues in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Alaska, California , Mid Atlantic, Northwest and the Plains States.

If you are lucky enough to ever be in Cape Cod, go to a Cape League ballgame. If you live within a two hours drive of Madison, Wisconsin, you will be amazed at the 5,000 or more in attendance at those contests. A couple of days ago 2,679 saw the Bend, Oregon Elks lose to the Bellingham Bells, of the West Coast Collegiate League 9-5.

The game is growing and growing and so is the debate, the pride, the loyalty and the passionate cries of my school is better than your school.

Texas teams can derail the legitimacy of California leagues and California schools can beat their chest about their brand of baseball.

Meanwhile Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma can scoff at the rest of the countries claim to superiority.

Bring it all on, because that can only mean great things ahead for the great game of collegiate baseball. Be a part of college baseball today and never let go. Good Luck to the remaining teams in Omaha!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wood Bats Belong in College Baseball


RT Staff Note: We were watching a summer collegiate league baseball game over the weekend and realized just how nice it was to hear the crack of the bat from these young, talented college players. I watched dozens of college games this year and I got so used to hearing the PING, that I almost forgot what it was like to hear wood in the close confines of a college stadium. So we dug up an article that ran yesterday that mirrors our thoughts on wood bats. Enjoy.

by Eric Dorval, June 15, 2009 – 10:29 am

“Ping! Ping!” That’s the sound baseballs make when they come off the bat during college games. But why does it have to be this way? Why does college baseball still not use wooden bats?

The answer is simple: money. There are two issues here. The first is the cost of the bats and the second is endorsements. Many top college teams and coaches have lucrative endorsement deals with metal bat manufacturers. In addition to providing bats, these top schools receive additional money for advertising.

We are led to believe that college baseball teams would break a dozen bats per game and be forced to buy hundreds of bats per season. This is simply not true. Obviously bats will break over the course of the season, but wooden bats are less expensive than metal bats. A good metal bat starts around $250, while good white ash and maple bats are roughly $50 and $100, respectively. You can buy several wooden bats for the price of one metal bat. In fact, when the state of North Dakota outlawed metal bats in high school play, the average bat cost per school decreased.

The other issue revolves around the endorsement deals that the big universities have. But wouldn’t wood bat companies provide the same deals as those making metal bats? Louisville Slugger makes both.

The NCAA has allowed the use of metal bats in college ball since 1974, so this is certainly nothing new. Sure, allow metal bats in high school ball, but college is different. Who cares if everyone can’t hit the ball 400 feet? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

The College World Series is always held in the Omaha Royals’ Stadium. They are the Triple-A affiliates of the Kansas City Royals. Over the past few seasons the fences have been pushed back when the College World Series comes to town. This is due to the fact that the metal bats used by college players are simply too powerful for the stadium. Does it make sense that a professional ballpark has to remodel in order to accommodate college hitters?

All major college sports are different than their professional counterparts in one way or another. College footballs and basketballs are both smaller than the ones the pros use. In college football, the hashmarks are wider than in the NFL, which definitely changes the game. In college basketball, the three-point line is closer than in the NBA.

But baseball is different. Going to a baseball game is a very sensory experience. The smells. The sights. The sounds. Watching a sporting event is about more than the players. In baseball, one of the most recognizable characteristics is the sound a ball makes when it strikes a bat or pops into a glove. By using metal bats, it alters the way the game sounds, a difference not to be taken lightly.

Nike had a famous commercial with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux talking about how “Chicks dig the long ball”. While it is true that everyone loves a home run, this is just one facet of the game. Baseball is about much more than smashing balls all over the ballpark. Just ask Ozzie Smith, who made the Hall of Fame even though he only hit 28 home runs in 19 seasons.

The wood-metal difference also makes it extremely difficult for scouts to compare college players to their pro counterparts. And it prepares them poorly to make the professional transition. Are we far from seeing MLB push for the college game to make the switch? Perhaps not.

The choice is clear. Metal bats change the game more than just on the scoreboard. They change the sound and feel of the game, which is what sports are all about. It’s like instant replay. Instant replay can break up the flow and change the feel of a game.

Bring the sound and feel of real baseball back to college. Bring back the wooden bats.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Harper Hype


The story of 16-year-old Sports Illustrated Cover Boy and baseball phenom, Bryce Harper gets more and more interesting.

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that he has enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, where he plans to start attending classes in August and play for the school next season. Can he do that? Does that mean he has to pass his GED?

But remember folks, Harper has just completed his SOPHOMORE year. This is a kid that plans to forgo his high school prom, and all of the fun that being a junior and senior in high school can bring.

Now that he has enrolled in a junior college, he is eligible for next year's 2010draft.

But back to the kid. Is this what he really wants? Or, is this what greedy agents and MLB owners want? Can this absolutely be the best choice for a young American teenager? Sports Illustrated called Harper a prodigy and a man-child and an amazing physical specimen and talent. But he's still only 16 years old.

I have stated quite often on this blog that a kid should go to college and grow up in the disciplined system that a good academic environment can bring rather than choose to go straight to the pro's after high school. Harper isn't even finishing high school. There's no doubt that he is the Lebron of baseball. We have all seen the You Tube videos of him hitting 500 foot bombs with wood. But I think he should at the very least, finish high school. There's nothing like being a living legend amongst your peers. He should stay and try to break every high school record in existence and make his mark.

Then after he graduates, he is free to sign a Scott Boras like pro contract. (Boras is his advisor, but that shouldn't be a surprise.) He would only be 18, and in our opinion, much better equipped emotionally to handle professional baseball. Again, he'd be even more emotionally equipped after his Junior year in college, but all of the baseball experts say this kid is a once in a lifetime talent, so maybe he can handle it.

Whatever the case, he may end up in the same place as this years phenom, Stephen Strasburg. I mean, the Nationals aren't doing a Tampa Bay like, worst to first turnaround anytime soon. Could you imagine those sorry Beltway Bombers actually having two of the most storied recruits of the decade? It could happen folks. It certainly wouldn't be cheap...but they are in Washington...all they have to do is show that they are in financial stress and the government will just bail them out.


Monday, June 15, 2009

BASEBALL AND LIFE


"LEARN THE SIMILARITIES OF BASEBALL AND THE REAL GAME OF LIFE"
By Bill Bathe

Baseball and life have a lot of similarities. I know what you are thinking, yea right, it's simply a game involving a bat and a ball. What can that possibly teach us? I am here to tell you what it can teach you. Not only baseball, but other sports as well.

Growing up I couldn't see the similarities with baseball and life. I simply knew that a game was on and lets go play! But as time has evolved and I have gone on to other things, only now can I reflect and look at what the game of baseball has taught me.

Baseball and life are similar. I think the first thing it taught me was personal interaction. How to deal with teammates and how to work together towards a common goal. We all wanted to win together, but we also experienced defeat together. We learned how to deal with defeat and how to rise above it. How to keep on trying every out, every game. We didn't know it at the time, but we were learning valuable skills that would carry over to other facets of our lives.

It also taught me how to deal with one-on-one situations. You against the pitcher in the batter's box with the game on the line. You strike out and the game is over. How did you handle this on a personal level? It taught you that you will overcome even in the eyes of defeat. It teaches you how to handle defeat amongst your peers and what you will do to be better next time. Baseball and life are similar, they are just on different stages.

How about your hitting? You fail seven out of ten times and you are a three hundred hitter and a hero. You fail eight out of ten times and you are only hitting two hundred. One extra hit per ten at bats can propel you from hero status to the goat status. How do you deal with defeat when you are only hitting two hundred? Do you throw in the towel or do you put your best effort forward, hold your head high, and carry on with great determination?

Baseball and life teaches us that everyone fails at some point. What matters is not giving up. What matters is getting up and you keep pounding the rock. And while you are pounding the rock, without even knowing it, you are gaining character, desire, determination, and that great spirit that will carry over into life skills.

When I reflect back and try to understand what I learned from this game, I can now see what it has taught me. I know I can handle any situation, because I know how to get back up and move forward. I can deal with personal one-on-one situations, because baseball taught me that.

I know if it doesn't go just right, there is always tomorrow and the prospect of better things. I can handle defeat because I know it is only an opportunity for success later. And an opportunity for me to learn along this road called life.

Yes, baseball has taught me how to be in life, how to handle the ups and the downs, how to be a better person, and how to go out and get what I want in life. It is a grand game in so many ways!

Baseball for me was a stepping stone to my career now. Yes, I accomplished a lot in baseball, but it is where I am now that matters to me and baseball helped me get here.

I am now a captain with the Tucson Fire Department and a paramedic. I have the opportunity to save lives and affect them in a positive way. I deal with tragedy, as well as the overwhelming emotion when saving a life. How do I handle these pressure situations when faced with real emergencies?

I can look back and know that baseball taught me life skills and the ability to handle success as well as defeat. I know that I put my best foot forward each day. Somedays will be enriched with reward, and some with tragedy, but I will keep the course and give it my all. Baseball taught me that. And I hope it can help you as well. Please email me with any thoughts or questions.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trombly Alumni A Huge Hit In Draft


For the past two years, we have had our own Top 5 College Development Program rankings. The teams we pick are all very deserving clubs, but sometimes we miss out on a program or two. This blog is a hobby and sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.

But credit is given where credit is due on this site. Therefore, a ton of credit should be given to the Trombly Baseball Academy and what they have accomplished over the past few years. If any of you tracked the 2009 MLB draft, chances are you came across one of the many alumni of that program that were chosen.

The numbers of players from the Trombly program that were selected in the draft are astounding to say the least. In the first 30 rounds, 21 former players were chosen. Five more players were chosen on day three for a total of 26 players. As if that wasn't impressive enough...
* Four former players were picked in the 1st round!
* Three players were chosen in the second round.
* One each in the 3rd, 4th and 9th and two in the 10th.
* 12 players in all in the top 10 rounds!!!

The Trombly Baseball Academy was started in 2002 and they put together their first summer teams in 2003. Their goal from Day 1 was to establish the program as one of the top baseball organizations in the entire country. Steve Trombly, it's founder, wanted their players to move on to college baseball/professional baseball and sought out ways to compete with the top teams in the country. In a very short amount of time the players/coaches hard work has obviously helped them achieve those goals.

Trombly has numerous players playing college baseball at different levels throughout the country and several more who are currently playing professional baseball. Their teams have been very successful as well, having won numerous tournaments and league championships. In addition to their local success, they have done very well nationally. Here's a sampling of their success:

2003
15U AABC Western Regional Runner-Up
16U AABC State Champions
16U AABC Western Regional Runner-Up

2004
16U Super 7 World Series Champions

2005
18U AABC State Champions
18U AABC Western Regional Champions
18U AABC Connie Mack World Series Runner-Up

2006
16U AABC Mickey Mantle World Series Runner-Up
18U AABC Connie Mack World Series Runner-Up

2007
17U Premier World Series Runner-Up
17U AABC State Champions
17U AABC Don Mattingly World Champions

2008
18U AABC State Champions
18U USABF World Series Runner-Up


Here is how the Trombly Baseball players did in the Top 30 rounds of this year's 2009MLB Draft.

-----1st Round-----
#5 Matt Hobgood (Orioles)
#8 Mike Leake (Reds)
#11 Tyler Matzek (Rockies)
#13 Grant Green (A's)

-----2nd Round-----
#53 Brooks Pounders (Pirates)
#67 Robert Stock (Cardinals)
#74 Cameron Garfield (Brewers)

-----3rd Round-----
#96 Brett Wallach (Dodgers)

-----4th Round-----
#141 Wes Hatton (Angels)

-----9th Round-----
#285 Gavin Brooks (Yankees)

-----10th Round-----
#292 Paul Applebee (Nationals)
#295 Joey Schoenfeld (Pirates)

-----11th Round-----
#330 Adam Wilk (Tigers)

-----16th Round-----
#489 Danny Bibona (Cardinals)

-----18th Round-----
#534 Shuhei Fujia (Padres)
#555 Hector Rabago (Yankees)

-----19th Round-----
#577 Nick Akins (Dodgers)
#579 Travis Tartamella (Cardinals)

-----26th Round-----
#784 Kevin Castner (Rangers)

-----29th Round-----
#870 Michael Morrison (Tigers)

-----30th Round-----
#906 Jack Marder (Diamondbacks)

-----32nd Round-----
#970 Ryan Shopshire (Blue Jays)

-----36th Round-----
#1101 Eric Oliver (Angels)

-----41st Round-------
#1236 Cade Kreuter (Diamondbacks)

-----45th Round-----
#1366 Richard Stock (Brewers)

-----47th Round-----
#1410 Kevin Chambers (Tigers)

Their web site is not flashy and they keep a somewhat low profile. But nobody can argue their success. Steve and his crew have done a great job giving these young men an outlet to play some great competitive basball and helping them get ready for the next level. Congratulations to the Alumni of the Trombly Baseball Academy and Steve Trombly.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Baseball: College Or Pros? Decision Can Change Life


By PAUL DOYLE | The Hartford Courant
June 9, 2009


They were two of the most highly touted high school pitchers to come out of Connecticut over the past five years. Matt Harvey of Fitch-Groton and Jeff Katz of Cheshire each faced the same decision after being selected in the Major League Baseball draft — sign a professional contract or attend college. With the baseball draft starting today and running through Thursday, we check on the different paths taken by Harvey and Katz:

MATT HARVEY

As one of the best high school pitchers in the country, Harvey was projected as a first-round pick in 2007. But with a scholarship offer from North Carolina and Scott Boras advising him, Harvey dropped to the third round (118th overall) because teams feared his asking price.

After a few months of negotiating, Harvey rejected the Angels' offer of about $1.4 million. Two years later, North Carolina is in the College World Series and Harvey has no regrets. "I wouldn't change my decision for anything," Harvey said. "If I could tell all the kids out there, based on my decision, I'd say go to college."

Harvey, 20, was 6-1 with an 0.64 ERA as a senior at Fitch. He was 7-2, 2.79 in 19 appearances as a freshman at North Carolina, but saw his ERA (5.35) rise as he went 7-2 in 20 games this season.

But with a fastball in the mid-90s, Harvey remains a top prospect for the 2010 draft. His pitching repertoire is deeper after two years in college, and he says he'll be more prepared for professional baseball next year.

"You learn so much because you really do have to develop all your pitches in college," Harvey said. "As far as maturity, I felt at the time I was ready to sign. But looking back, I don't think as an 18-year-old with a million dollars that I would have been able to deal with it as well as I will next year. I've lived on my own for two years now. I'm more mature."

And playing baseball in Chapel Hill has been more exciting than any Class A site could have been. As the Tar Heels beat East Carolina in the super regional over the weekend, streets around Boshamer Stadium were shut down for a carnival atmosphere, and the games were sold out.

Harvey has also become friends with North Carolina alums, such as Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard. Talking to former Tar Heels has only confirmed his decision to attend college.

"Guys I've talked to who signed out of high school, I don't think they've enjoyed the experience as much," said Harvey, who will pitch in the Cape Cod League this summer. "I think a college really prepares you."

JEFF KATZ

A 6-foot-4, 218-pound power pitcher at Cheshire High, Katz had a scholarship offer from Boston College when the Braves selected him in the ninth round (281st overall) of the 2004 draft. Negotiations were quick. Katz accepted a $160,000 signing bonus, plus the Braves agreed to pay for his college education.

Just weeks after graduating from high school, Katz was in Orlando, Fla., for rookie ball. Thirty months later, the Braves released Katz and handed him another check for his college tuition.

That was the end of his professional career: 30 games over three seasons at the Class A Rookie level. Katz could have bounced to another organization, but he decided to return to another passion.

So at age 21, he was playing college football at Division I-AA Lafayette.

"He said to me, 'Dad, I don't want to be a 25-year-old college freshman,'" Katz's father Rich said. "He was still young enough to play college football."

Katz earned a spot on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll with a 3.76 grade point average. Now 23, Katz — a policy studies major — has transferred to Amherst College because of the school's internship program and has put football behind him.

"Our focus, even before he signed, was that he gets an education," Rich Katz said. "He's doing that."

Jeff Katz was 0-1, 5.11 ERA in five games for the Braves' Gulf Coast League team in 2004. Pitching for the Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2005, Katz hurt his shoulder and was limited to nine games. When he returned in 2006, Katz had lost velocity and had a 4.16 ERA in 16 relief appearances.

He was released after the season and enrolled at Lafayette a few months later.

Rich Katz, athletic director at Platt-Meriden, says his own draft experience may have shaped his son's decision. In 1970, Rich Katz was drafted by the Indians out of Platt in the 13th round (290th overall). He attended Jacksonville University instead of signing and was selected by the Orioles in the 1974 draft but went in the 32nd round (635th overall).

"The older you get and the longer you wait, the less valuable you become," Rich Katz said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Best Baseball Schools


RT Staff Note: This was found in the Wall Street Journal of all places. Good article.

By DARREN EVERSON
Penn State produces linebackers. Georgetown is a factory for basketball big men. But if you're looking for a pitcher or a slugger in Major League Baseball's draft, which college should you turn to?

The short answer, based on a statistical analysis: Southern California for pitchers and Miami for hitters. But when Missouri State outperforms prestigious programs like Stanford, and when relatively unheralded Kentucky is the third-best school for pitchers since 1996, the long answer is that it's a bit more complicated.

As baseball holds its annual draft Tuesday, the importance of gauging collegiate talent is at an all-time high. Roughly half of the players in Major League Baseball went to college -- and clubs are becoming increasingly enamored with collegians because they're more developed and thus closer to helping the team. Last year, 20 of the first 27 players taken were from college; overall, just 32.2% of all players drafted were high-schoolers. This year, Stephen Strasburg, a fireballing pitcher from San Diego State, is expected to go first overall.

In basketball and football, colleges like North Carolina and Michigan have developed reliable reputations for churning out scorers and offensive linemen and other top talents. But in baseball, even top college players face a second layer of apprenticeship: the minor leagues. Here, a small, often unpredictable crop of players keeps developing while the rest stall. St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Albert Pujols played at Maple Woods (Mo.) Community College and was drafted 402nd overall in 1999, yet has developed into the game's most-feared hitter. Meanwhile, roughly half the players taken that year in the first round haven't reached the majors.

"Baseball is the hardest sport to prognosticate," says former Louisiana State coach Skip Bertman, who led LSU's baseball team to five College World Series titles. "In football, I watch the scouts come in and run seven or eight tests for each kid -- vertical jump, bench press, 40-yard dash -- and when you put all those scores together, you know their athleticism. In baseball, you don't have to have a 40-inch vertical; you don't even have to run real fast. But you do have to be real smart and know how to deal with failure."

To ascertain which schools have done the best in recent years at producing players who make an impact in the majors, The Wall Street Journal analyzed each draft from 1996 through 2008. Each school that has produced at least four major-league players from those drafts was ranked by adding its total "runs above replacement" for hitters and pitchers. This statistic measures how much better (or worse) a player is compared to a theoretical, average replacement.

The findings: Southern California, which owns 12 College World Series championships but has struggled in recent years, ranks No. 1 overall, although some of its best players -- including pitcher Mark Prior and hitters Jacque Jones and Morgan Ensberg -- have contributed little in recent years. Miami has generated little pitching in recent years but produced several sluggers, including Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Braun.

Other top college programs have had several players make the major leagues, but haven't seen them become stars. Texas, the alma mater of 354-game-winner Roger Clemens, doesn't crack the top 10, nor does Long Beach State, despite the recent exploits of Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria. Stanford has had more than 70 players reach the majors all-time, but all of the Cardinal's current players combined have been outproduced by former Rice standout Lance Berkman, a five-time All-Star first baseman with the Houston Astros.

California schools make up four of the top five -- USC, No. 2 Cal State Fullerton, No. 4 UCLA and No. 5 Pepperdine, with Miami in between. But more than anything, the analysis shows how difficult it is for even top colleges to produce top-flight major-league players. Mr. Pujols has single-handedly been more valuable statistically than the offensive alumni of every college during the past dozen years, save Miami and UCLA.

Kentucky isn't known as a baseball school, but it has developed an impressive track record for producing pitchers, especially for a school that is not in the Sun Belt. Keith Madison, Kentucky's winningest coach all-time, concentrated on pitching, having been a pitcher himself. "What happened on occasion -- more often than my assistants would like -- was when I'd go to a high-school tournament, my focus was on pitching," says Mr. Madison, who retired in 2003. "My best gift as a coach, I felt, was my ability to identify good arms."

Mr. Madison unearthed Brandon Webb and Joe Blanton, two right-handers overlooked by professional scouts as high schoolers. Mr. Webb, who is currently on the disabled list with the Arizona Diamondbacks, won the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 2006; Mr. Blanton, a Philadelphia Phillies starter, was 2-0 in the playoffs in the Phillies' championship run last season. Mr. Madison also coached Scott Downs, a reliever who has become the Toronto Blue Jays' closer this season. This year, Kentucky lefthander James Paxton is projected to go in the draft's first round.

Missouri State, the alma mater of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, the NL's most valuable player in 2006, has also had surprising success. Its former players include pitcher Shaun Marcum, who had a 3.39 ERA for the Blue Jays last season but is currently injured, and reliever Brad Ziegler, who set a major-league record last season by starting his career with 39-straight scoreless innings. "I don't know if it's anything we do," says Bears coach Keith Guttin -- although that doesn't stop him from crowing to recruits about Missouri State's pipeline to the pros. "It tends to come up in conversation."

College-baseball coaches freely admit, though, that there's little they can do to keep their alums from languishing eternally in the minor leagues. "Most college coaches would agree that we can't take credit for the guys who make it to the big leagues," says Mr. Bertman of LSU. "The reason they make it is they were endowed with special gifts, and like all prodigies, they work hard at it."

Write to Darren Everson at darren.everson@wsj.com

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D10

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Omaha Bound


The field is set for the NCAA World Series and it could be one for the ages. There are the usual powerhouses like Fullerton, Arizona State, LSU, North Carolina and Texas. And, there are the newcomers like Southern Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia.

The match-ups are very interesting. Upstart Arkansas has been playing great baseball all year and they match-up with a dominant Fullerton team that has destroyed its competition in the regionals and Super regionals. Both teams have yet to lose a game in the postseason. The Titans have everything...pitching, hitting and speed. The Razorbacks are balanced as well and may have an edge at the plate. We'll give the edge to Fullerton though.

LSU is no stranger to Omaha, but they are matched up with a hot Virginia team that is in it's first trip to Omaha and seems to be on a mission. Personally, we like this Cav's teams. Look for them to upset the Tigers.

The most intriguing first game match-up is Arizona State and North Carolina. Like Fullerton, the Sun Devils have dominated their two regionals. The Tar Heels haven't really been challenged either. Both teams rely on a great pitching staff and an aggressive approach at the plate. Both can pitch and both can score. Should be interesting.

This years Fresno State could be Southern Miss. They are playing inspired ball right now and they match-up well against a Texas team that just doesn't impress us. The Longhorns play in a highly overrated league and we just don't think they have the horses to go far. It could be a 0-2 and Q for Texas.

Here is the schedule:

BRACKET ONE
Saturday June 13
Game 1: Cal State Fullerton vs. Arkansas, 2 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: LSU vs. Virginia, 7 p.m., ESPN

Monday June 15
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Game 6: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Wednesday June 17
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Friday June 19
Game 11: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 9, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday June 20
Game 13: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 9, 2 or 7 p.m. ESPN, if necessary

BRACKET TWO

Sunday June 14
Game 3: North Carolina vs. Arizona State, 2 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Texas vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Tuesday June 16
Game 7: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Thursday June 18
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Friday June 19
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday June 20
Game 14: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 2 or 7 p.m., ESPN, if necessary

College World Series: Championship Series
Bracket One winner vs. Bracket Two winner

Format: Best of three series.
Game 1: Monday, June 22, 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: Tuesday, June 23, 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Wednesday, June 24, 7 p.m., ESPN, if necessary

On another note, the regionals drew extremely well over the weekend. This is yet another example that this game is on the rise. LSU drew 20,000 for two games, Texas drew nearly 22,000 for three game series and Ole Miss/Virginia had over 19,500 for two games. Those are numbers that rival basketball folks. This game is really taking off. Now, if we can only convince the West Coast to draw those type of numbers, baseball would be a fully funded sport.

Friday, June 5:
9,923 - LSU/Rice
9,213 - Ole Miss/Virginia
3,784 - Florida State/Arkansas
3,362 - CS Fullerton/Louisville

Saturday, June 6:
10,323 - Ole Miss/Virginia
10,279 - LSU/Rice
7,220 - Texas/TCU
4,581 - Florida State/Arkansas
4,381 - Arizona State/Clemson
4,316 - North Carolina/East Carolina
3,570 - Florida/Southern Mississippi
3,178 - CS Fullerton/Louisville

Sunday, June 7:
10,110 - Ole Miss/Virginia
7,205 - Texas/TCU
4,406 - Arizona State/Clemson
4,313 - Florida/Southern Mississippi
4,271 - North Carolina/East Carolina

Monday, June 8:
7,241 - Texas/TCU


Monday, June 8, 2009

Stock market isn't always high


RT Staff Note: We have been watching Robert Stock play ball since he was 11 years old. Here's a follow up story on him and his decision to leave high school early, spurn the draft and enter college at USC. The story is from the L.A Times and Gary Klein.

More baseball players are leaving high school early for college, but caution is urged.

By Gary Klein
June 7, 2009

At the time, Robert Stock did not consider himself a trailblazer.

It has been three years since, at age 16, he decided to skip his senior year at Agoura High to enroll and play baseball at USC -- a move that started a local trend that shows signs of gaining traction elsewhere.

Long Beach State pitcher Jake Thompson and UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer followed suit, as did North Carolina freshman Levi Michael, a star second baseman who might shine a national spotlight on the strategy if the Tar Heels advance to the College World Series.

"I never really thought of myself as a pioneer," said Stock, a pitcher and catcher. "It was just a good personal decision for me, and those guys found it worked for them too."

How well it worked for Stock will be measured, on one level, when Major League Baseball begins its annual draft Tuesday.

When he left Agoura, Stock was projected as a first-round pick in the 2007 draft, which might have made him an instant millionaire. But after three college seasons, Stock's value apparently has dropped.

Based on conversations with major league scouting directors, Baseball America magazine ranks Stock 118th on its list of draft prospects, projecting him to go between the third and fifth rounds. After batting only .226 this past season, but going 5-4 with a 2.90 earned-run average on the mound, Stock is viewed as a better pitching prospect than catching prospect.

"From a purely baseball draft standpoint, it's easy to second-guess his decision and say he should have graduated from high school and been a first-round pick," said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, which has tracked the draft for two decades. "But if you flip it around, he got to play three years of college baseball and made a lot of progress toward a degree.

"The worst-case scenario is he comes back next year and gets his degree and goes into professional baseball at 20. I don't know how that's bad."

Stock, 6 foot 1, 195 pounds, has no regrets. He said his decision to enter school early and bypass the draft "definitely" was not about money. And though he acknowledges underperforming at the plate -- "I haven't hit up to the level I or other people hold me accountable to," he said -- he has not given up hope of reaching the major leagues as a catcher, or at least starting his pro career as one.

"I would really like to go out as a catcher," he said, "because you can see people who have switched from being a position player to pitcher, but it's rare that you see pitchers become position players."

While athletes in other sports have jump-started their college careers by leaving high school early -- former quarterback John David Booty and basketball point guard Daniel Hackett are two recent examples at USC -- Stock was believed to be the first baseball player to give up the option of being drafted so he could go to college.

Thompson did the same the next year, though under different circumstances.

He had transferred from Lakewood Mayfair High to Long Beach Wilson after his sophomore year in 2006 and was regarded as a prospect after playing in Team USA, Junior Olympic and Area Code tournaments. Eligibility questions because of the transfer prevented him from playing for Wilson in 2007 and also put his senior season in doubt, prompting him to call former Long Beach State assistant Troy Buckley.

"I said, 'Why don't we try a Robert Stock?' " Thompson recalled, chuckling. "I think he hung up on me."

But a determined Thompson completed the academic work necessary to make the jump.

In 2008, Thompson was the 49ers' No. 3 starter, going 2-5 with a 4.95 ERA on a team that reached the NCAA tournament and produced 11 draft picks. This season, he was 4-7 with a 5.61 ERA.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Thompson, who will be eligible for the draft next year, advises caution to players contemplating a similar move.

"There were times [as a freshman] I came off the mound thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?' It was a big mental test to see how mentally strong you can be," he said.

Bauer, who on Wednesday was named Collegiate Baseball's national freshman pitcher of the year, said he feels more at home at UCLA than he did at Newhall Hart High, and that Stock was "the catalyst" for his decision to start college early.

Shortly after enrolling in Westwood, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Bauer started the season in the Bruins' bullpen.

He eventually joined the starting rotation and finished 9-3 with a 2.99 ERA and two saves.

The transition on the field, he said, was relatively easy.

"Probably the roughest part was that I never missed class in high school," said Bauer, who is studying engineering.

"So to try and get adjusted to the pace of classes and missing them for travel with baseball means you're always playing catch-up."

In 2008, the NCAA increased the number of required core classes for incoming freshmen from 14 to 16, making it tougher for high school players to complete the academic work necessary to graduate early.

That was good news for professional baseball scouts, who are not big fans of the trend.

Stock has worked out for several teams in preparation for the draft, but the player who was in a hurry to get to USC might not be in such a rush to leave.

"We'll have to see what happens," he said. "I'm always looking ahead and I'm excited for whatever the summer has in store, be it playing wood-bat baseball in the Cape Cod League or going out to a short minor league season.

"I'm just looking at what I can do to become a major league baseball player."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Friday, June 5, 2009

Team Building


USING INDIVIDUAL TENDENCIES TO THE TEAM'S ADVANTAGE

Whenever possible, make everyone feel like they are the best player on the team. Use the observations from above to showcase each player's stronger skills to the rest of the team. Stroke the each player's ego to the team's advantage.

For example... correct the analytical type away from the rest of the team... focus on the happy go lucky type in times when practice is loose and things are going well... when the risk taker makes a good decision, praise this player in front of the entire team asking questions about the player's decision... take a skill the controlling type performs well and have this player teach the skill to the weaker performers on the team."

BUILDING PEAK PERFORMANCE
All coaches must be aware of these five steps towards "peak performance." The specifics within the plan are defined by the Head Coach and his coaching staff.

1. Everyone must know the "Big Picture"... What are the goals for the team?... At the end of the season, what ability level can the team expect?

2. Everyone must know the specific skills needed to attain this goal... What are the steps needed to reach the "Big Picture"?

3. Everyone must be ready to work toward the goal... What practice and planning is needed to attain the "Big Picture"?

4. Everyone must be willing to attend practice to work toward this goal... Is everyone committed to working toward this goal?

5. Everyone must demonstrate a consistent performance over an extended period of time... Is everyone committed to a reliable performance over a period of time?"