The recruiting process in college baseball, specifically at the Division I level, is unlike any other sport. While we’re able to sign student-athletes to a letter of intent to attend our institution, the possibility exists that student-athletes may be drafted by a Major League Baseball team and elect to sign a professional contract. In the past, this has left colleges and universities scrambling during the summer months to find players to replace departed individuals.
From my perspective, the recruiting process is one of the most interesting and exciting parts of coaching at a university. This is the time that each program gets a chance to evaluate a prospect’s talents and get a sense of his makeup as a person. At Santa Clara , we look for well-rounded baseball players.
While it is paramount that we find individuals with exceptional baseball talent, we also look for students that have excelled in the classroom. Our philosophy is that if one shows the discipline to expand the necessary time and commitment on his school work, he is more likely to show a similar commitment to his development as a baseball player.
My favorite players are the “late bloomer” recruits, or players that may join our team with little fanfare and end up making a name for themselves. While much attention is given to summer showcases, travel ball teams and the like, the truth is that we all miss on players that end up becoming successful ballplayers.
Walk-ons are the lifeblood of any program, and our program is no different. We will have several players that will play significant roles with our club this year that began their careers as walk-on players in our program.
At Santa Clara, we talk with our players on a regular basis about “controlling the controllables.” This can be applied to many different aspects of the game, but in my mind it is critical to the academic responsibilities of ball players and the work ethic that they demonstrate daily. As students and as athletes, it may not be possible to control which school gives us the opportunity to play ball. We can, however, make an effort to work hard in the classroom so that the academic component enhances the ability to play this great game.</p>
Do people even realize how difficult it is to play a typical 162-game schedule in Major League Baseball?
I've been following the American League Cy Young race recently. Josh Beckett and C.C. Sabathia have both been putting up some impressive numbers. Sabathia of the Cleveland Indians holds a record of 18-7 and has 205 strikeouts in 234 innings. His ERA is 3.19, and he has started 33 games so far this year...tops in the AL. Beckett of the Boston Red Sox also has put up equally impressive statistics: a record of 20-4, 188 strikeouts in 194 innings, and has started 29 games this year.
I note that Sabathia and Beckett have started 33 and 29 games, respectfully, because I think of all the statistics games started is the most impressive. For both pitchers and position players, being able to remain healthy throughout the course of an entire season is critical.
In Sabathia's case, equally as important as his ERA, strikeouts and wins is the fact that he has remained healthy and started 33 games. Many baseball fans don't appreciate the rugged grind of playing every day; it's commonplace for players to play with nagging injuries for months at a time.
So what does this mean on the amateur level? I coach college-aged players and we typically play only 5-6 games in a given week. In 2008, our schedule will change dramatically, as we will have a more condensed calendar to play our 56 games.
When former Santa Clara Broncos return to campus, the biggest thing they notice is that we play more games on a regular basis. Professional baseball is different than college baseball in that the season is structured for players to play everyday. But durability continues to be an important part of baseball--no matter what level you're playing.
Something we should all appreciate as another grueling 162-game Major League Baseball season comes to a close.
While things obviously change over time, much still remains the same with Little League Baseball. I was speaking earlier today with another coaching colleague, and the topic of the Little League World Series came up in our conversation. We collectively noted the abundant presence of the curve ball in Little League.
In several of the games that I have seen on television, a great deal of pitchers have relied on the curve ball as their second pitch--often struggling to throw the pitch consistently as a strike. At the collegiate level, the change up, when thrown correctly, is much more devastating to hitters then a curve ball. Why so?
As a hitter, visually, we seek to pick up the spin or trajectory of the baseball as soon as possible. As players become more advanced, the velocity of the baseball changes, thus making the reaction time to the hitting the baseball significantly different. Coupled with having less reaction time to hit a baseball, pitchers in college are more advanced in their ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes. So how are hitters able to become successful despite these disadvantages?
As college coaches, we teach our hitters pitch- recognition. Skilled hitters are frequently able to differentiate between a fastball, slider, breaking ball, change up, etc. The change up is difficult to hit simply because it is difficult to recognize. If thrown correctly, it should mimic the same arm motion and arm speed as a fastball.
The hitter often is not able to tell the difference between a fastball and a change up because both pitches typically share the same path to the hitting zone. The curve ball, on the other hand, often will change its trajectory in a dramatic fashion. If a hitter can recognize the pitch early from its release point from the pitcher, he often is able to adjust accordingly.
Yet, athletes and coaches alike love to teach the breaking ball at an early age, even though it may not be the most effective pitch to throw. The wear on a young pitcher's arm is more drastic when throwing breaking balls then when throwing change ups.
I'm excited to watch the Little League World Series this weekend and next week. Perhaps the pitching approach will be different then what my coaching colleague and I have observed in the previous games.
I was traveling in Portland this past week and could not help but notice the excitement surrounding the team from Lake Oswego and their first trip to Williamsport. The Oregonian, one of Oregon's daily newspapers, noted in its coverage that Lake Oswego is only the third Oregon city in history to travel to Williamsport. Even as a current college coach, it was fun to share in the excitement of the days ahead for the team and its community.
The city where I grew up and played Little League baseball, Los Gatos, California, had a similar experience in 1984. The team defied several obstacles before reaching the Little League World Series. Although I was only 8 years-old at the time, I remember the experience vividly and was excited to cheer on the "big boys" that played on the 12 year-old major all-star team.
In the Aug. 15, 1984, issue of the Los Gatos Weekly-Times, sports editor Randy Frey wrote: "Mike Fisher picked a perfect time for hitting his first home run of the tournament. With one swing of his bat he sent the Los Gatos Little League All-Stars on their way to San Bernardino."
Los Gatos lost its first game, 2-1, to future Major Leaguer Jason Varitek and his team from Altamonte, Florida. After a 10-1 win against Brussels, Los Gatos lost 5-2 to Panama City to end its run and finish fifth in the world.
There was something special about the excitement and the buzz when "our team" made it to Williamsport. Before the electronic age of the internet, games were picked up and broadcast by a local radio and television station.
While the young men did not win the championship, it was fun to root on the older kids. Ultimately, these would be baseball players that would be role models of success for me while I continued to learn the game. Several players from the team would become stars at Los Gatos High, in college, and beyond. While Los Gatos has not made it back to the series since, it is fun to reflect and think that the memorable run by the 1984 team gave all of us younger players something to strive for in the years to come.