Diamond Notes: Trend of Decommitments

By: Austin Alexander-December 18, 2008 Once upon a time – and not too long ago – verbal commitments were "stronger than oak"…by both parties, the student-athlete and the institution. In recent years, baseball commitments are not carrying the same weight, sending the coaching profession into uncharted waters. We have surveyed a strong sampling of coaches from various levels of college baseball to weigh in on the topic and answer the following four questions: 1-What is your definition of a verbal commitment, 2-Your thoughts on kids changing their minds after committing, 3-What are the affects it will have on college baseball if it happens more, 4-How do you generally view a players commitment to another school. We apologize in advance that names and schools could not be attached to the excerpts due to NCAA guidelines. This compilation of information is lengthy but we were able to obtain some very thought-provoken responses. Enjoy! A Conference USA Recruiting Coordinator said: 1-School and player honor the scholarship and commitment as soon as it is made, unless grades or off-field issue makes player ineligible, unable to clear the clearinghouse, not admissible to the school. Or a serious incident off the field (arrest, dismissal from HS team, etc), which could be detrimental to the university. Even in the case of an injury related to the sport, we have honored our commitment and scholarship money.  2-If kids feel that they aren’t 100 percent sure of their decision or their fit within a program, don’t commit!  3-The affects of the decommitment on college baseball will be absolutely awful. I’m probably living in a fantasy world, but I was hoping our sport never came to this. The amount of fluctuation from the draft on the team and with each recruiting class, the August 15 date to which kids must decide on signing or school each summer, and adding the chance that your commitments will go elsewhere is not a good situation. 4-I have never called a player which I knew had committed, and don’t plan to. Several coaches from other school have called our committed players, fortunately they stuck with us. I probably live in a fantasy world. A Big South Recruiting Coordinator said: 1-I interpret a verbal commitment as a kid that has made a decision to attend a school. He has verbally told the school he plans to attend and the other schools recruiting him as to his selection. I expect that he will sign the necessary paperwork at the next signing opportunity. Although it is non-binding I view it as he has made his decision.  2-I think you see kids decommit more because with the new transfer rule- kids are more aware that they have to get their school selection right the first time around. I think before, you saw kids commit to some schools with the knowledge that if it didn’t work out they could transfer. I also- think some of the decommits are because a kid commits so early- maybe as a sophomore in HS- but by the time he is a senior- either they realize, or the school he is committed to realizes, it is no longer the right fit. You see a lot of schools pushing kids away as well. 3-How it affects college baseball depends on why a kid decommits and if schools continue recruiting a kid, even after he has given a verbal commitment. I think baseball recruiting has the potential to get as cut-throat as College Football and Basketball- if many coaches view the verbal commitment as meaning nothing. If a kid decommits due to a coaching change or because a kid is just having second thoughts- that is one thing. But if a kid changes his mind due to another coach swaying his decision because they continued recruiting him- I believe it will affect most of us. I’ve always thought college baseball recruiting was more gentlemanly than football or basketball- but I see it becoming more like those sports. Think about how in football you read about kids taking visits even after they’ve committed. For the most part, it doesn’t happen in baseball- but it could start happening more often. 4-If a kid we are recruiting tells me that he has verbally committed elsewhere, I wish him the best of luck and tell him if anything should change prior to the signing period, let me know. I do not contact him anymore. One of the big things that I feel is happening now in the recruiting process is kid’s parents are really selling their kids at venues. I am often approached by parents asking me what I think of their kid, long after everyone knows this kid is committed to another school. I don’t know if it is ego on the parent’s side or what. To be honest it has become a big turnoff and those are the kind of parents we really have no interest in having in our program. A Division II Recruiting Coordinator said: 1-Once a kid tells you that he is coming to your school on his own. 2-I do not like the thought of it, but with kids making their decisions so early in the process now, I can understand it happening some. Especially when schools are starting to take their offers back after they have had a kid committed for a while. 3-I think it starts to hurt relationships. College baseball has been somewhat separated from basketball and football because of the camaraderie that the coaches have. It seems they do not get along and are a little different than us. If coaches start recruiting other’s commitments, it is going to hurt that. We have already seen it with some in our state. 4-Once a kid is committed to another school, he is completely off limits, regardless of level (JC, DI, DII, DIII, NAIA). A Southern Conference Assistant Coach said: 1-A verbal commitment is a player giving his word that he fully intends to sign with your institution. 2-There are generally two scenarios where a kid who has given a verbal commitment changes his mind. The first is when a player genuinely realizes that …

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A Farewell to the Professor

By: Austin Alexander-December 8, 2008 On Monday, one of the game’s all-time greats made his retirement official and will now ride off into the sunset with little fanfare and fireworks. Sadly, when he blew the whistle on returning for 2009, ESPN barely made mention of it. But, man-o-man did dazzle us for 23 years! In 1987, Greg Maddux made his Major League debut as a pinch-runner for the Chicago Cubs, this October his final appearance was out of the bullpen in a blowout NLDS game at Wrigley Field as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it was what he did in between those appearances that will send him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and enlist him among baseball’s immortals. In the day and age of "bigger, faster, stronger", he once appeared in a commercial stating that "chicks dig the longball." And that was certainly true in the mid-90’s. But it was Maddux that made the two-seamer, command, stabbing line drives up the middle and a change-up sexy for 2+ decades. Slight-of-build and ‘armed’ with a mid-80’s fastball, he became as well-known for his unassuming appearance as his brilliance on the mound. Nicknamed "The Professor", this pitching surgeon often appeared as though he had just emerged from a chemical lab rather than from another complete game shutout. He was, indeed, the mad scientist of the rubber and in complete charge of the 60"6" airways between he and the catcher’s mitt. Here’s a quick snapshot of his resume:  Facts  355 wins: 8th All-Time, most in Live Ball Era (1920’s to present)  Only player with 300 wins, 3000 K’s & less than 1000 walks  4 Cy Young Awards (1992-1995)  18 Gold Gloves: Most at any position  1 World Series Championship A copy of Maddux’s scouting report in high school is now posted on a wall at Turner Field, perhaps his magnificence is best summed up in those words: Not overpowering but has the heart of a lion. Maddux, also dubbed "Mad Dog", gave hope to young players that weren’t tall enough, didn’t throw hard enough or sport  enough "stuff" to win. While a power arm with filthy breaking stuff may draw mysterious injuries in the other dugout or prompt a day off among opposing superstars, for 23 years professional hitters kept taking their whacks at Maddux…then took their "comfortable oh-fers" back to the bat rack, shaking their heads in disbelief. The way scouting has evolved since Maddux was a high school pitcher, it is doubtful we’ll ever again see the likes of his kind again, especially without going the college route first. Well noted as a Hall of Fame prankster as well as moundsman, Maddux was a genius on off-days too, tutoring countless of young pitchers who credit much of their successes to him. He has been called by some of the greatest managers and coaches in the game as having the best baseball mind of anyone they’d ever been around. He toyed with hitters while we watched and loved every single outing since many of us can remember.  A true professional in every sense of the word, Maddux will be sorely missed. Not just for his greatness, but for the way his humble nature and simple approach evolved into an art form that we will never forget.

Al’s View: Why have rules, we have Bud Selig

By: Al Hudson-October 29, 2008  Tonight’s World Series game in Philadelphia could decide the outcome, but to many the winner should have already been declared. There are many points to debate, but only one has any real importance to the discussion. Rule:412 expressly covers suspended games. (a)    A game shall become a suspended game that must be completed at a future date if the game is terminated for any of the following reasons: (1) A curfew imposed by law; (2) A time limit permissible under league rules; (3) Light failure or malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club. (Mechanical field device shall include automatic tarpaulin or water removal equipment); (4) Darkness, when a law prevents the lights from being turned on; (5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead; or (6) It is a regulation game that is called with the score tied. Weather and similar conditions-Rules 4.12(a)(1) through 4.12(a)(5)-shall take precedence in determining whether a called game shall be a suspended game. If a game is halted by weather, and subsequent light failure or an intervening curfew or time limit prevents its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. If a game is halted by light failure, and weather or field conditions prevent its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. A game can only be considered a suspended game if stopped for any of the six reasons specified in Rule 4.12(a). This game was complete after 5 innings, the run Tampa scored in the top of the sixth should have been rescinded, as the game should have reverted to the bottom of the fifth. The Phillies had a 2-1, and according to the rules could not bat in the bottom of the sixth because of weather conditions deemed unplayable by the plate umpire. I don’t have a problem with the way Bud interpreted his power. The right thing to do was to suspend the game at that point and resume when safe to play. However, the rules cannot be changed in mid-game. In a court of law, the Phillies would be given the title. The bookmakers in Vegas have already paid off their bets by declaring Philadelphia the winner by the rules. The bookmakers better pray that the Rays don’t come back to win. Vegas violence may be worse than Detroit after the Pistons won the NBA title. My other complaint was Selig’s state of mind. Anyone listening to his press conference had to be concerned about his speech patterns. I’m not saying he had imbibed too many Old Milwaukee’s, but he did slur his words on more than one occasion. Let’s hope the powers in baseball rescind his leadership, and make the rules reflect what is the right thing to do. The All Star home field rule is a joke. Selig has violated the most reverent of baseball rules. Do nothing to disrupt the integrity of the game. Mr. Selig’s rulings are a travesty to baseball. Note: My opinion has nothing to do with my picking the Phillies in 5. Questions and comments should be sent to: [email protected]

Al’s View: There is No Crying in Baseball!

By: Al Hudson-October 21, 2008  It is with a sad heart that I write this column. My beloved Red Sox were knocked out of this year’s World Series by the upstart Tampa Bay Rays. But should we have seen it coming? Tampa Bay, long the doormat of the American League, has been stockpiling early draft picks for quite a few years. The Rays have four first round draft picks on the current roster. David Price (2007), Evan Longoria (2006), BJ Upton (2002) and Rocco Baldelli (2000). Each has made their presence felt in 2008 playoff action. In addition, Carl Crawford (1999 – 2nd round), James Shields (2000 – 15th round) and Andy Sonnanstine (2004 – 13th round) are integral parts of the 2008 Rays.  Therefore, the keys components in the Rays ascent should be Chuck Lamar and Andrew Friedman. Lamar was the General Manager from inception to 2006 when Friedman assumed the job. Draft picks are only part of the equation. Lamar engineered a significant trade for starting pitcher Scott Kazmir in 2004, and traded for starting catcher, Dioner Navarro in 2006. Friedman, who should be selected as Executive of the Year, signed free agent first baseman, Carlos Pena in 2007, and put the finishing touches on the Rays with the acquisition of starting pitcher, Matt Garza and shortstop, Jason Bartlett, from the Minnesota Twins for former 2003 1st round pick, Delmon Young. Young is a fine player, but the former Twins were instrumental in the Ray’s success. Only the 1991 Atlanta Braves had a better last-to-first turn around then the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. If you think that I am obsessed with the Rays, let’s not lose perspective. They are a nice story, but can they beat the Phillies. Let’s examine the facts about both teams. The number one key to the series is the three games in Philadelphia. The Rays set a record for most home runs hit in a playoff series (16). How does that affect them in the bandbox stadium of Citizens Bank Park? Many a team have gone into a visitors locker room, stepped out on the field, and thought," We will fill those seats with home runs." If they can maintain their normal approach, they will be fine, but therein lies the problem. Young hitters, small ballpark. The series could end in Philadelphia if the Rays do not adjust. The Phillies strength is in the bullpen. They are 79-0 when leading in the ninth inning. Closer, Brad Lidge has an un-hittable slider. However, before coming to the Phillies, he had a couple of down years with the Houston Astros. He has returned to form and his set up men Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and JC Romero are far superior to the Rays bullpen. For the past twenty years, the best bullpen has dominated the series. The X factor is David Price. The Vanderbilt hero can be dominant because of his 96 MPH fastball and his hard breaking slider. Plus, the scouting report is vague on this newcomer to the Major Leagues. When a pitcher throws 96 MPH, you had better have an idea when you step into the box. Speed will favor the Rays. Their starting outfield is the fastest in the game. Speed usually translates to good defense. When you look at the middle infield, the Rays defense is very strong. Bartlett and Akinori turn the double play as well as anyone in the league. The Phillies will have to learn the nuances of The Trop. They may spend Game One staring at the catwalks. The Phillies, one through nine, are an offensive machine. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell have the ability and the experience to dominate a short series. If they hit as projected, the series could end in Philadelphia in four or five games. Pitching! It all comes down to pitching. The Phils’ Cole Hamels (right) has been the best starter in either series so far. He has to win Game One or the Phillies are in trouble. Forty-six year old Jamie Moyer has been awful in the postseason, but the Rays are a fastball hitting team. Moyer, a la Greg Maddux, will keep them off-stride with his change-up. If he keeps it down and in the zone, the Rays will struggle. The Rays have to win at least one game in Philadelphia. I believe they have an edge with Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine slated to pitch games three and four. The key to the pitching match-ups might be Game Two starters James Shields and Brett Meyers. I realize my selections to this point have been less than stellar. The Dodgers right-handed pitching did dominate the Cubs, and the Phillies bested CC Sabathia to take the Brewers down in four. The American League was a different story with the Red Sox besting the vaunted Angels, and the Rays beating the White Sox. I did get the Phillies into the World Series, but alas, albeit a good effort, the Red Sox failed to return to defend its title. No tears, the Red Sox didn’t lose, the Rays won. With all of that in mind, and recognizing the fact that my fellow BoSox fans do not care who wins, I have to agree with The Guru of Baseball, Peter Gammons, and pick the Phillies to win the World Series. I have long been a proponent of the National League style of play, and the American League dominance in World Series and All Star competition aside, I will go with the Red & White. Win or lose, the Rays have been fun to watch! Questions and comments should be sent to: [email protected]

Al’s View: Playoff Preview

By: Al Hudson-October 1, 2008 Isn’t it amazing that every year in all sports we are faced with a controversy of some sorts. The Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox finished the regular season in a tie for first place in the American League Central Division. The White Sox won a coin flip to determine home field for the playoff. Why was a coin flip necessary? During the regular season the Twins and White Sox met eighteen times. The Twins prevailed 10-8 in their head-to-head competition. Shouldn’t the Twins have been awarded home field for the play-in regular season games? If they had finished 9-9 in head to head, then, a coin flip would be necessary, but suppose the Twins had won 15-3, where is the fairness in that? Head-to-head competition is part of the playoff format. If for example, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox had finished in a tie for first place, the Rays would have been awarded first place, because they had won more games in head-to-head against the Red Sox. Why? Because the Red Sox received a bid as the Wild Card team, allowing both to compete in the playoffs. But, the Rays would receive a home field advantage against their opponent because they were a division winner. It appears to me that the same rule was misapplied in the Twins and White Sox decision. I am not saying the Twins would have won the game in Minneapolis, but they should have had the chance. The White Sox and the Rays are a very intriguing matchup. It is probably the hardest to predict. I like the hot team coming into the playoffs. Momentum should carry the White Sox past what I believe will be a "happy to be there" Tampa Bay team. I have been wrong on the Rays all year, but I just can’t pick them. They have to sweep the first two games to win this series. The Red Sox enter the 2008 post season as the defending World Series Champion. Starting on the road at Anaheim against the Angels will favor the Angels, who won 100 games this year. However, recent history has shown the Red Sox seem to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. In 2008, the Angels won eight out of nine from the Red Sox. Even though they play in a weaker division, the Angels seemed to relish a chance to beat Boston. The key points to look at are: (1) As good as Josh Beckett has been in the playoffs, is his oblique injury going to hamper his performance? (2) How effective will Mike Lowell and JD Drew be with their nagging injuries? (3) Will Jason Bay’s lack of playoff experience actually replace Manny as an offensive threat? (4) If the Angels can get a lead, their bullpen can finish the deal (5) Will Mark Teixeira make the Angels a better offensive machine than the Red Sox? My heart says Boston in four, but my pick is the Angels to displace the monkey, and win this series in four. The Dodgers and Cubs series comes down to pitching. Both teams have a pitching advantage in this series. The Cubs have better depth on the mound, but the Dodgers strength is from the right side and the Cubs are a right-handed hitting team. What about Manny? Granted, he has changed the atmosphere in Los Angeles, it is too much to ask of one hitter to dominate a series? The key to this series is Carlos Zambrano. If he wins, the Cubs win. I hope this is the magical year for the Cubs. Can you imagine if Harry Caray was still alive to call a CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! In the Beefeater Bowl, the Phillies and the Brewers have the potential to play a very entertaining offensive series. With CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Howard, this could be the makings of a six-man tag event, or a formidable team to enter against Joey Chestnut, Kobayashi, and the Black Widow in a beer and brats eating contest. This should be the easiest to pick. The Phillies will only have to face Sabathia one time. The Phillies have one of the best bullpens in the National League, while the Brewers have the worst. I think management put Dale Sveum in a tough position. They fired manager Ned Yost with 12 games to play, but Sabathia was the reason they made the playoffs. It takes a team effort to win in the post-season, and I am afraid the Brewers are fragmented. Sorry the Atlanta Braves are not in the playoffs again this year, but it is a small price to pay when the Yankees and the Mets are both playing golf today. Questions and comments should be sent: [email protected] 

The Wrigley Field Experience: A Player’s Perspective

By: Brison Celek-September 16, 2008 It seems to me that every kid when growing up wants to be something amazing, like be a professional athlete, life-saving doctor, or something big like an astronaut. Well, for me it was and still is, wanting to become a professional baseball player. There is always talk on our Diamond Devils team and among most baseball players about how cool it would be to play in a pro stadium, and is the field really that nice? Or is it just like any nice ballpark but with a lot bigger fan area surrounding it? Well, this past weekend of September 6-7, I found out first hand what one of the most storied ballparks was like to play on and be in. Yes, is the answer to all those questions about whether or not the field is really that nice and is it better than any other ballpark in the country. It was an awesome experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. My Wrigley experience started long before we actually got to step foot onto the field as a team. While our Diamond Devils 17U team was playing in Atlanta for the Perfect Game Wood Bat World Series in July, which we won, Coach John Rhodes explained to us one night after we had been rained out for the day that he had received an invitation to play at Wrigley Field with his 18U team in the fall. As that chance might be a once in a lifetime thing, we all agreed to accept the invite and eventually go to Chicago to play in one of the most historic ballparks ever. As the fall season started for our 18-year old team, we were all anticipating the second weekend in September to fly to Chicago and play. As luck would have it, Mother Nature gave all of us players from Charleston a good scare by sending Hurricane Hanna towards our city and threaten our departure. But Coach Rhodes was not having any of that he got in contact with our parents and informed them of an earlier flight on Friday the 5th so we didn’t get stuck in Charleston after the airport closed at 2:00 p.m. in preparation for the storm. After all the stress of the storm, we all boarded the plane and were Chicago bound for the weekend. Upon arriving in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to have my parents and sister make the trip with me and see me play. It was a big deal for me because my dad and I have put countless hours into the cage and drills to get me where I am today, and my two biggest fans, my mom and sister, all could watch me play on a pro field for the first time in my life. That first night in the hotel was kind of surreal for me because in the morning, I was going to be getting up and playing on a Major League field where all the Cub greats have made there mark on baseball history. As we had been assigned the second game on Wrigley, our wake up call would come bright and early for all of us to get dressed and get to the stadium for pictures and self-tours. Just walking into the stadium and seeing the ivy that has been the trademark of Wrigley for so long, and seeing the old time scoreboard and knowing what has taken place in this stadium gave me goose bumps and reminded me why my teammates and I play everyday. I don’t think I have ever been photographed more in a 4-hour time frame than during that Saturday morning. Our game was delayed for a while because of a late start to the game before ours but no one seemed to mind we were all just taking in the moment. So when the preceding game ended our turn to take the field began, we all were amped up and ready to play. As for playing on the field, it was the best field I have ever played on so far in my life. Stepping into the batters box where all the Cub greats like Ernie Banks, Roger Hornsby and Mark Grace have batted before was an overwhelming experience during the first at bat. Just knowing that many Hall of Famers and other pros like Pete Rose, Albert Pujols and Johnny Bench hit in that very same rectangle I was standing in made me sort of nervous. As the game went on, our coaching staff did a heck of a job getting everyone on the roster playing time and throwing seven different pitchers, and to top it off we came out on top with a 4-2 win and did it with everyone getting to play on Wrigley. After our first game of the weekend was at Wrigley, we went and played at Northwestern University, which is in the Big Ten Conference, and went 3-0-1 for the weekend. For me the weekend was probably one of the coolest life experiences I have ever been through because I got to play the sport I love the most on one of the most historic, famous ballparks in the world. I would like to thank Coach John Rhodes for giving our team the opportunity to play at Wrigley and believing we could represent his program well enough to go play. I would also like to thank my parents for putting up with the countless hours of driving and hotel nights and weekends away from home for me to be able to play this great game at the level the Diamond Devils play at. This was an experience I will never forget for the rest of my days and thank all who have gotten my teammates and I this far along in the game.

The Wrigley Field Experience: A Parent’s Perspective

By: Butch & Sharon Forrester-September 5, 2008 Plans began to be made back in July for a unique trip to Chicago for the Diamond Devils 18U Baseball Team, which had won the Perfect Game 17U World Wood Bat World Series in Atlanta and the CABA 18U Wood Bat World Series in Charleston this summer. Coach John Rhodes had received an invitation for the team to play in a tournament in Chicago due to the excellent performance of this team and his program. Through hectic school, baseball, and work schedules, along with hurricane preparations for the coastal families, a sense of anticipation and excitement continued to build for all as the team, our sons, would be playing their first game at Wrigley Field. The members of this team have worked remarkably hard for years to reach this level of play. The coaches have sacrificed a great deal of time with their families season after season traveling with the teams. The parents have done all they could to provide the best opportunities and experiences possible for their sons since each boy first picked up a bat and glove. Now a dream for all was coming true! They were playing a game on the hallowed grounds of one of the most famous fields of professional baseball. On the fall morning of September 6th, the Diamond Devils team, coaches, and families arrived at the home of the Cubs. Although the outside of the stadium showed its many decades of existence, the history of all those who have traveled through the great iron gates was quickly felt. The tunnel around the stadium lacked the many booths and activities that the new stadiums offer. However, once up the stairs and into the bright sunshine, the splendor of the rich, green field and the ivy covered fence was breathtaking for any baseball fan. While sitting in the stands, you could easily remember all of the great ball players, from the past and the present, who have played here. You could easily see various landmarks around the stadium including the great scoreboard and seats on the rooftops lining the outfield. Most importantly, you could easily see what this experience meant to each player, coach, and family member by simply looking at their faces. The thrill and honor of being at this field to play was apparent. Each player, as all fathers and sons in the world of baseball, dream of one day playing at the professional level and at a great field such as Wrigley.  Finally, the time had arrived for the Diamond Devils to take the field. The magic of this moment was felt with a lump in the throat, a chill up the spine, or a tear in the eyes. All of the hard work, dedication and sacrifices became worth it in this special moment. Each player seemed to run a little faster, throw a little harder and give more of himself with each play. The Diamond Devils, our sons, were playing on Wrigley Field. The sense of pride and joy was overwhelming. The players in this baseball program have had the opportunity of playing on many major college fields around the country, but none can compare to playing on Wrigley Field. The experience of watching our sons playing, and winning, on this field is one all of us will cherish. It is a lifetime memory that each player will be able to share with their children and grandchildren. No matter what happens in each of the player’s future baseball careers, they had the opportunity of playing on one of the most renowned professional fields while still in high school. In the well-known baseball movie Field of Dreams, there is the famous line, "If you build it, they will come."  This has been true since 1914 at Wrigley Field, and was true on this memorable day for the Diamond Devils.

The Wrigley Field Experience: A Coaches Perspective

By: Austin Alexander-September 3-7, 2008 There are moments in a person’s life that become unforgettable snapshots for a lifetime. It may be one’s first homerun, graduation day, their wedding or the birth of a child. Whatever the case, it’s a moment that is etched into the memory bank of an individual amid all of the other mundane days and events during their time in this world. This past week, my family, my players, fellow coaches and I had one of those moments as our South Carolina Diamond Devil club was slated to play on Saturday at the Chicago Cubs’ cathedral, the one and only Wrigley Field. When confirmation of the big weekend came down the pike, my family scurried to make plans to land in the Windy City for this very special opportunity. After quite a bit of string-pulling, we were able to secure entrance to the Cubs game on Wednesday. After the tickets were rounded up, my family of three and parents locked in plans to fly up that morning, see the game that night, and remain in town through Sunday for the four games that we had scheduled to play on the weekend. You see, Wrigley Field shares a very dear place in the hearts of my family. Many an afternoon over the years have been spent watching our beloved Cubbies on WGN. This time my two-year old fanatic of the Lovable Losers and my father, along with my wife and mother, would go to Wrigley for the first time together. Not only that, the pinnacle of this trip would come three days later. I’ll get to that part shortly. Upon arriving in Chicago, the approaching remains of Hurricane Gustav made for a very windy and overcast welcome. We rushed to the ballpark and got the first glimpse of the stadium from a city bus and my son was completely beside himself! We exited the bus, grabbed a quick bite and began searching for a brick that my late grandfather had left for my son Nolan; it was embedded under the big red sign at Wrigley’s entrance. It was a fairly emotional moment for each of us, as we saw it for the first time and while my ‘diapered dandy’ cleaned it to make the brick appear new again. Within two minutes, we were inside the park and a ball had been flipped from the field by coach Ivan DeJesus to us in the stands. My little guy already had a souvenir and he’d just passed through the turnstile! We had the chance to get some pictures in the infamous Steve Bartman seat. Much to my pleasure, Nolan cried like a madman when I sat him down in it! The game versus the visiting Astros eventually got underway and it was a quicky as Randy Wolf dialed up a 3-0, complete game shutout to finish off the Houston sweep. The highlight on this night was the 7th inning stretch, which is a near religious experience on this hallowed ground. Again, to be able to share this moment with family was one I’ll cherish forever. Gustav finally arrived later that night and made for a very wet Thursday. A day filled with fun for a two-year old saw stops at Legoland, the Disney Store and of course, the Cubs Clubhouse, to name a few. With the team set to fly in later that afternoon on Friday, concerns over some of the their departures became questionable due to the approaching Tropical Storm Hanna. Thankfully all of our coaches and players were able to board their planes and make their way to join us in Chicago. Before they touched down, my family and I trekked it back over to Wrigleyville for a morning of fun around the Friendly Confines. Pictures in front of statues and way too much time in the various shops around the ballpark made for an enjoyable (and expensive) time, even with the Cubs on the road. Later that night we attended a White Sox game against the Angels at US Cellular Field, an eventual 10-2 route for the home team. Finally it was time to play baseball though! Our kids were up and moving around early on Saturday in anticipation of our game at Wrigley. We were set to play a team representing four different states out of the Midwest at 11:30 and got to the park early to take in the atmosphere. After a series of group pictures, we had a great deal of time to move about the park with free reign in one of baseball’s royal cathedrals. Due to a delay in the game before us, we were about an hour behind schedule…strangely, no one seemed to mind! When the final out of the preceding game was made, our kids and coaches flooded onto the field with youthful enthusiasm! Much to our dismay, we were only allotted 15 minutes to prepare for the first pitch. It forced us to really hustle through the pictures and sight-seeing, but it sure was better than nothing. Most of our player’s parents were able to enter the field and my family did too. Nolan slid into home plate a half dozen times, we were able to play catch in the bullpen area and some very nice photographs of us were taken that will eventually line the walls of our home. Believe it or not, we actually participated in a baseball game that day and things could not have played out better! We won the game 4-2, we were able to throw seven different pitchers and every primary position player was able to get multiple plate appearances. The coaching staff even got into the mix as we rotated manning the bases every inning! If we had drawn up the perfect scenario before the game, the way it actually went down would have been far better than anything we could have master-minded. At game’s end, I allowed my little guy to sit in Lou Piniella’s reserved area of the dugout for the final three …

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The art of receiving & returning recruiting calls

By: Austin Alexander – August 13, 2008 When college coaches and pro scouts begin making calls to prospective players or draftees, there are a number of variables that they weigh in on after they initiate the potential of a future partnership. Understand this first: Players, no matter how good of a player you may be on your high school team, traveling club or how many prep accolades you have accumulated, you must understand that the recruiting/scouting landscape ranges from coast to coast and you are really just a blip on the broad radar of baseball talent. Understand also, that there are a ton of tie-breakers beginning with your individual skills and how they project combined with your overall make-up how others perceive you. With skimpy scholarship allotments already, roster spot limitations and the added variable of how the APR can penalize schools, plus the signing bonuses that Major League clubs put into players, you must be aware that they have to look through critical eyes because their jobs are on the line. Having said all of this, here are a few tie-breakers that can go against a player that may find himself in a dead-tie for more scholarship percentage, roster spot, etc. Some of these we have touched on before: -The length of your hair…Chicks may dig the flowing locks but scouts do not. -How you wear your uniform…If you look sloppy, you probably practice in a sloppy manner too. -How you enter and leave the ballpark…Look and act like you belong at the next level. Childish behavior and smooching all over your girlfriend is not endearing to professionals. And the most prominent reason for writing the article, the art of returning and receiving recruiting calls/coorespondance… Courtesy: First of all, if a coach or scout takes the time to do his job, and away from his family, to call you and leaves you a message, call him back, period. Even if you are not interested in the school that has called you, returning phone calls is still just a common courtesy in any walk of life. Most coaches are big boys and have heard “no thanks” before, it is far more frustrating and revealing of the individual when calls go unreturned. Trust me, you are not as busy as you think you are…return the call. Phone Calls: Do not just use your first name when returning or making a call. Understand that the coach you are calling has received and made quite a few calls already during that day. Also during his tenure he has grown to know quite few people within the sport…Therefore calls originated or returned that begin this way, “Hey coach, this is Jason…” often times gives the coach zero indication as to who he actually has received a call from. It is highly conceivable that he has other players on his own team, in his personal past, former players, and/or other players in your recruiting class with the same first name. In other words, provide your last name and high school when leaving a message, for instance, “Hey coach, this is Jason Smith from East Ridge High School…” This lesson will serve you well long after your baseball days are over. Addressing a parent: “Hey Mom, hang up the other phone”…screaming at a parent is never an attractive sign. Ring tones: I’m not certain that any coach that lands in the age range of 25+ is going to be overly impressed with your selected tunes. I will go out on a limb and say most are just fine with hearing a normal dial tone versus “Baby got back and I cannot lie…” Your voice message: Sound like you are articulate and can actually pass some classes at their school! Don’t mumble or sound like you just woke up at 3 p.m. Include your area code: Not everybody lives in your neck of the woods. In a given day, a college recruiting coordinator may engage in phone calls with people from 10+ different area codes. Don’t assume he has your number in his phone or has all of his recruiting files readily at his fingertips. The tip here, just because the majority of your calls do not leave the county, rest assured, most of his do. Leave your entire phone number when talking to his voice mail. Text messages: Text messaging has become a very popular and valuable resource in the past few years, but understand the difference between texting your best friend versus texting an adult. Text as though you are talking to him, don’t assume that he comprehends all of the abbreviations and emogies that you and your peeps like to use. I hope that some of these tips resonate with players who find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the recruiting process. Never forget that even though you may be a heavily-courted player, little things that you do or don’t do, can tip the scales into your favor or into the lap of another kid. Opportunities can be lost due to things you have never given a second thought to, attention to detail will always be a sure-fire way to win tie-breakers in baseball and beyond.

Baseball…It’s supposed to be for the kids

By: Al Hudson-August 28, 2008 The story I am about to relate is true, but as Joe Friday would say, the "names have been changed to protect the innocent." By the way, Joe Friday was a character on the television series "Dragnet". He was…..oh well, never mind. The place was Charleston, South Carolina. The year, 1991. The venue was the Collegiate Summer Baseball World Series. I will narrate for the coach, as he tells of the exploits of a championship journey that tells a story of the true meaning of why we play the game. "It was my second year to coach in the Lowcountry Summer Collegiate Baseball League. The league was well designed, but under financed. We struggled to pay our bills, but the caliber of play was pretty good." The league did not receive any support from Major League Baseball, as most summer leagues do today. They had a successful Christmas tree sale in December, and a few local businesses contributed money to keep the league afloat. Players worked summer jobs to afford to play, and coaches volunteered their time. "I was honored when asked to coach a team. My experience had been highlighted by travel ball, but limited to high school age players. My first job was to recruit quality players to stock my team for the season. I soon discovered that my skill as a recruiter would turn out to be my greatest asset in baseball." "I was able to secure players from Coach Bill Wilhelm (Clemson) and Coach June Raines (South Carolina) as well as numerous other colleges and universities in the Southeast. In that first year of recruiting, the team had 13 players that had or would be drafted into professional baseball. We lost one game during the season to advance to the World Series. Sadly, that was the pinnacle as we only won one game in the National Tournament." "As we approached the 1991 season, I was determined to upgrade my performance. I was sure that any coach with that much talent could perform better in the Championship Series." What transpired during the 1991 season transformed this coach, and changed the lives of a group of players. "The 1991 team consisted of 4 players that would become professional players. I thought that my recruiting skills had really diminished. It was a desire to succeed that led myself and a fine group of coaches to reach a level that we all thought impossible." "The real character of this team became apparent when in the third game of the season, one of our lesser known players was spiked in a play at second base. To my surprise, the whole team erupted with one of our better players leading the way. The fight was short lived, but an identity was born. I don’t condone fighting, but a team must stand together in the face of adversity. This is where leaders are born and character is developed." This incident may have been the catalyst, but the real spark would come much later. "We played pretty well that year, and qualified to appear in the World Series again. However, a week before the series was to begin, I had to remove my best pitcher from the roster. He missed a practice and a game that he was scheduled to pitch to go to the beach." "Several players were upset, but I sat the pitchers down and told them that this was an opportunity for them to find out what they are made of. They responded with performances above and beyond their capabilities." "Fortunately, our pitching staff was fairly deep. Our top 3 starters were very similar in ability, and it was almost like drawing names from a hat to decide who would throw. We opened play with a win over Ohio, and followed it with a win over Texas. The Texas win was the key to the tournament. In the seventh, with the score tied, I went to my number 3 starter, a lefty, in a situation that called for one. He got us out of trouble, and finished the game throwing about 40 pitches." "Our next game was the winner’s bracket final against Virginia. As I searched for the pitcher to start this all-important game, the same lefty starter came to me and said, "Give me the ball." While I admired his courage, my thoughts were to protect his arm. I agreed to let him start the game, but that he would be on a short leash." After 3 innings the lefty had a perfect game going, and a limited number of pitches. "He didn’t want to come out, we were up 1-0, and he was throwing well. To make a long story short, at the end of six innings we were up 3-0, and he still had a perfect game. I told him that he was out after the first hit allowed. In the seventh inning, the leadoff man got a hit, and I proceeded to the mound. The catcher met me half way to the mound to inform me that he would whip my ___, if I removed the pitcher. I returned to the dugout, but changed pitchers in the eighth, and we won 3-0." "Championship game, and Virginia had to beat us twice. When I made out the lineup, I realized that I had six players that not played an inning to that point. I had a pitcher that had just finished his Clemson career, and would never toe the rubber again. I started that pitcher and the six substitutes. League officials and parents were aghast. Had I lost my mind, was I trying to lose the series? They even threatened to remove me as coach." "The starting players taught me what a team is all about. They supported my decision, and were the first to congratulate their replacements when a nice play or a big hit was made. I truly learned that day what a team is made of." "We lost that game …

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