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Lessons From One College Search

by Wayne Christensen
Editor and Publisher of Baseball Parent

"Lessons from One College Search" is the story of one parent's thoughts on the college baseball recruitment process.

Many factors will influence whether your son plays baseball in college. Nearly all of them are out of your control, but, with lots of hard work and spending what may seem like a year's tuition at an affordable in-state school, you can increase your son's chances of playing college baseball considerably.

On August 12, my son was at an invitational pro try-out camp. His senior year of high school was to start the next day. Although I did not realize it at the time, that Thursday marked the end of our family's college search that had begun in August 1997. At that time we didn't know whether he could play college baseball at all, let alone at what level, or whether he'd be given a chance to play.

After spending 12 months of looking at colleges, attending baseball camps, playing a fall and spring high school and summer travel-team season, going to a couple of showcases, and attending several pro try-out camps, we thought he could play college ball. But where?

By October 12, all our questions were answered. A number of schools showed serious interest. And he had received several offers, but one from a major Division 1 university, to which he verbally committed, and, on November 11, signed a National Letter of Intent to play there. If he hadn't signed early, we would have been looking at another six months of visits, calls, letters, and questions about his baseball future.

After just having gone through this recruiting process, some things seemed clearer than they did before it all began.

See Your Son. College coaches have limited budgets. They also have to coach their own teams during the same time the high school season is underway. So, far less college recruiting seems to be done in the spring than in the summer.

Open pro-tryout camps are good places to be seen by pro scouts, who, in turn, are frequently asked by college coaches about the good players they have seen play. Some summer baseball tournaments for hand picked "select" teams - often made up of players from several high schools are good places to be seen if college coaches and pro scouts are invited.

Other summer tournaments are by invitation only and run by universities. These can be very good places to be seen, since the tournament director can assure college coaches and pro scouts that the quality of players will be higher than average. Sometimes the best 6 or 8 teams from adjoining states will be invited to one university for a week-end of round robin play.

State high school baseball coaches associations' all-star games, even if they may conflict with summer team tournaments, are very good exposure. Some teams are selected by balloting of high school coaches and others are picked from try-outs.

Showcases -- Particularly TEAM ONE and All American -- are excellent places to gain exposure. Some 50 or more coaches and scouts can attend the TEAM ONE Regional Showcases in Lexington, Ky., Clemson, SC, Tucson, AZ, and the national showcase in Florida. All American Baseball Showcases organizes some 15 events across the U.S. annually, culminating in the "Florida Finale" in November. The Area Code Games in Wilmington, N.C., and Long Beach, Calif., are organized by pro teams and are also very prestigious events to attend.

College "select" camps or "showcase" camps, only for high school players may be the best way to be seen. Over the course of several days, coaches not only watch your son's performance, they can get to know you and what kind of student your son is -- if he hustles on and off the field at the end of the day after many hours in the hot sun; what his work ethic is like; how he gets along with other players; does he dive after ground balls and get his uniform dirty at every game or practice; is he coachable; and how he compares to the other players at the camp and the previous camps at that particular university.

Among the schools that conduct these select camps are Arizona State, Auburn, California State, Duke, Florida State, Houston, Illinois, Indiana State, Iowa State, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Mansfield, Minnesota, North Carolina, Old Dominion, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia and VMI. What's more, there are camps for players of all ages at dozens of other universities and colleges that also showcase high school players and from which players are signed to scholarships from just those camps.

Like Your Son. During the recruiting process, a thrilling moment may occur when some college coach from even the smallest school at a summer camp says he is "definitely interested" or has "strong interest" in your son and goes on to say they'll have "to get him in for a visit." Or a coach may call him at home wanting him to come to a hitting camp next Christmas. Those are encouraging signs, but, like the baseball questionnaires, you will receive in response to letters he writes to college coaches, they may not mean much. Some colleges may even have him invited to pro tryout camps to compare him to other players they're recruiting at his position.

Need Your Son. Of the several pieces of the recruiting puzzle that must fall into place for your son to play in college, one is among the hardest for parents to figure out. College coaches who you write letters to or whose summer camps you chose to attend may not readily tell you what positions they're recruiting for a couple of reasons. One, the coach wants to make his decisions about players and positions after his fall workouts. Players can win or lose their starting roles during this time. Two, your son may be recruited to play a new position or to simply be a "utility" player.

Want Your Son. If a coach really wants him, he'll be invited for an official - paid - visit. You may not talk about scholarship money prior to the trip or even on the trip. If you do talk about money, the amount of the scholarship may or may not indicate how much they want your son. For example, the university may be loaded with upperclassmen and have very little scholarship money available for your son's first year. What's more, a school may want him badly as a position player but it's strapped for money and simply needs to spend all its money on pitchers.

References. Some of the best may be by pro scouts that have seen your son play and like what they see. Talk to them at high school games. Ask them if your son can play in college and, if so, if they'll be a reference for him.

Other good references include coaches at local colleges that have seen your son play and his summer coach. If he takes lessons from a former college or professional player at a local training school, use the instructor or head of the school. His principal, or a youth group leader at a church make good character references, which some colleges will want to check out.

Get Your Son. Let's say your son has a full ride to a smaller school, a 50 percent offer from a large school, in a fine conference, and a 10 percent offer from a major school in one of the best conferences in the U.S.

Which offer will he take, if any?

The answer to that question depends on a variety of factors and the importance that your family puts on each of them. Among those factors are: your financial situation; if the school would be the right place for him without baseball; distance of the school from your home, which will determine how much you'll get to see him play; what size school he wants to attend; playing time his first year; and his and your feelings about the coaching staff, which may be his surrogate parents for the next four years.

After all is said and done your son may not like the college options before him and won't select any of them. He may well want to spend more time looking. On the other hand, he may chose one, commit early, and receive calls from several others -- perhaps even prestigious schools -- after he has committed. If that were to happen, I'd be inclined to remember the advice of a friend who said to me "Make your decision and don't look back."

Reprinted from:
Baseball Parent Magazine

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