Monday, May 31, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 4

This is the 4th and final installment in my “Shoes to be filled…” series, and it includes the final group of players that will be leaving the pinstripes before next fall.  Here's the rest of our shoes to be filled:

Donte Williams, OF/RHP - “D-Train” or “Train”, named because he’s built like a freight train, has been a fixture in our lineup for the last two seasons. After being used further down the order in 2009, Train took over as our full time leadoff hitter after a few short weeks this spring. Not only did he make us proud in this new and vital role, he absolutely shined. No other leadoff man in the league was as versatile in their assault of first base. Donte literally used every weapon imaginable to reach base, and used them all with alarming success. As a hitter, Train hit a cool .383, lifting his career average at CV to a steady .356 mark. He used 20 walks, 22 hit by pitches, and 53 singles to set the table for us this year in addition to a homer and 10 doubles. He was so adept at reaching base that he only failed to do so at least once in a game on two occasions. One of those occasions was a pinch hit at bat, and the other was a game in which he had only 2 plate appearances. Not only that, but he finished the season on a 17 game hitting streak. After reaching base so frequently, it is not surprise that Train also scored an impressive 58 runs in just 47 appearances. He wasn’t too shabby when it came to driving runs in either, driving in 38 runs for the year. It’s easy to forget that Donte was also an outstanding relief pitcher for us during his stint with the Pirates. He threw just 31 innings in his career, but in those innings he struck out 17 batters, walked just 4, and sported a 1-0 record with 2 saves. While putting up these outstanding numbers, Donte was the epitome of self control, always managing to keep an even keel regardless of the situation. You could always count on him to keep his composure in tight spots and to lead by example without having to make a scene or run his mouth. Donte has signed to play at the University of West Alabama this fall.

Heath Peterson, 1B - The first thing you notice when you see Heath walk into a room is that he an absolute monster of a man. After you get to know him, you realize that his stature is probably the least impressive attribute he possesses. Heath is one of the most respectful, polite, and decent young men you’ll ever have the privilege to meet, and despite a fearsome appearance, he’s the first person to offer a helping hand. Oh, by the way, Heath can MASH!! In two years batting in the middle of the Pirate lineup, Heath clobbered 16 home runs, 14 doubles, and drove in 81. I say clobbered because when Heath gets a hold of a pitch he doesn’t just hit it, he destroys it. There are probably a couple balls he hit that are still making their way toward the Gulf of Mexico as I write… Heath hits balls that the defense gets out of the way of… He hits balls that scare small children and make babies cry. Maybe that’s a little overboard, but seriously, the guy has incredible power. By the time he was finished, he sported a pretty good batting average too, hitting a blazing hot .391 in 2010 and .331 for his career. The big guy can run too, he was safe on 13 of 15 steal attempts during his career at CV, and I’d bet more than a few catchers got pretty nervous on every one of his 67 runs scored. To finish the season this year, he homered in 4 straight games while going 8 for 13 and knocking in 6 and scoring 9 down the stretch. All told, he was responsible for creating 148 runs during his two years in the pinstripes. At the time of this writing, Heath has scholarship opportunities on the table, but he has not yet decided what his plans for next season are. As soon as he makes his decision, I will update this portion of my blog.

Bronson Gagner, RHP - At 6’7 260lbs, we called him “Big Daddy”. I’m pretty sure the rest of the league referred to him as “Jeez… Now we have to try to hit THIS guy??” Bronson was as good a starting pitcher as any pitcher to ever come through Chatt Valley, and he was arguably the most consistent hurler in 2010 that we’ve had during my tenure. The big man was great in literally every single appearance he made this season. Even in the 1 loss on his record, he pitched fantastically, keeping hitters off base all day while our offense had a rare off day. By the end of the year, he’d rattled off 8 straight victories, and if it weren’t for a couple of no decisions early in the year, his record could very easily have been even more impressive… Hard to believe when I tell you his record was 9-1. That’s right, 9-1 and his ERA was a tidy 2.69 in the process. Over his 70 and 1/3 innings of work, Big Daddy whiffed 58 opposing hitters and walked just 17. More impressive, only 4 of the walks came in his final 7 starts. Opponents managed a pathetic .243 batting average against him, and just for good measure, he mixed a pair of shutouts. His primary weapon was a fastball that has great 2-seam action and clocks in at 90-94 MPH, and there were several games in career where he literally didn’t need anything else to defeat his opponents. In a game against Wallace-Selma his freshman season, Bronson threw a complete game and only had to use his breaking ball twice. This season against Southern Union, he fired nothing but fastballs until the final frame to claim the win. When pounding heaters wasn’t enough, the big righty used an excellent slider and changeup to keep hitters guessing. With a two year tally of 13-3 with 93 K’s and 1 save, Bronson is easily among the all-time elite pitchers to suit up at Chatt Valley. What makes me more proud to say though, is that he is one of the best men I know… He is exceptional in every aspect of his character, and his worth as a human being dwarfs his tremendous value on the ballfield. Bronson has signed to play at Mercer University next fall, and he is likely to be selected in the June 5th Major League draft.

Tyler Googe, 3B/RHP - One word of advice to pitchers in the Peachbelt Conference next year: If Googe is hot, don’t throw him a strike. When he was on, there has never been a more dangerous hitter to face in the ACCC than Googe. He began the year by blasting 3 homers in a double header victory over Andrew College while driving in 10 runs in just a single afternoon. Against Wallace-Dothan, he literally had opposing players instructing their pitchers not to throw him any more strikes because he hammered 3 bleezies and a double in one game. In that contest he scored 5 runs and drove in 7. That’s right, one guy accounted for 12 runs in ONE game. His cumulative numbers were nothing to shake a stick at, either. For the year his line read .330 with 8 doubles, 9 homers, 39 RBI’s and 25 runs scored, and he did this in just 29 games in the Pirate lineup. The best part is that Tyler always showed up to the ballpark with a smile on his face and something good to say to everyone. He’s the guy you can’t help but like and the first one to bring humor into any conversation. Some people would say that he’s coachable… I’d describe it more as being willing to literally do whatever you ask him to in effort to win. He’s not just willing to listen, he’s completely selfless and is a consummate team-first personality. This has never been more evident in a player than it was in Tyler, who took every move, whether it was to 3rd base, 1st base, on the bump, in the DH slot, or even when he was asked to sit down, without the slightest hesitation, question, or complaint. That’s probably why watching him have so much success was so entertaining. Tyler has signed to play at Columbus State University next fall.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On summer coaches, shady dealings, and how to evaluate your son

There is a disturbing trend out there where summer travel ball coaches are trying to convince their players that they, the summer coach, is the doorway to a prosperous collegiate career.  Now, I'm not talking about the guy who works his ass off calling college coaches for tryouts and does everything he can do to expose his players while giving informed and accurate references to the places they want to play.

I'm talking about the used car salesman who claims that HE will get you a scholarship because all he has to do is make a phone call and so and so at Awesome U. or CC will sign you based purely off their sparkling recommendation.  I'm talking about the guy who pressures kids into playing for them by telling them he can affect their scholarship opportunities in a negative way if they don't.  I'm talking about the guy who tells his kids that they don't need their lousy high school team because summer ball is where the thunder is.

The truly sad part is that kids and especially parents tend to actually buy what these guys are selling.  Before I go any further, I do want to make it clear that there are some very reputable summer organizations out there that I would recommend to anyone looking for exposure.  Feel free to email me for references of places that I DO think run quality programs, and I'll be happy to try to point you in the right direction.  You can also take a look at our rosters and see where alot of our guys come from.  Chances are if there are more than 1 or 2 guys from a given summer club on our roster, there is a good reason for it.

So what should you be looking out for?  Well, anyone who promises anything greater than exposure, effort, and a commitment to making your player better is selling something you don't want to buy.  Guys that look you right in the eye and tell you that there are 5 places they can call to get your son signed tomorrow are full of shit.  As with most things, if it sound too good to be true, it probably is. 

The good ones will tell you that they get their players into quality tournaments and showcases against quality teams in front of quality scouts.  They tell you that they will strive to meet your son's needs as an instructor and that they will do everything in their power to get your son in front of the coaches they want to play for.  They should also be telling you that your son is responsible for sealing the deal!  If he doesn't play well or perform when people are watching, there's really not alot anyone can do to help place him.

Here are just a few other things to keep in mind on this subject:
  • No college coach in the country worth his salt is EVER going to take a player just because a summer coach tells him to.  His recommendation may help inform the coach, but without corroboration from multiple sources or a good audition, I won't touch a guy on word alone.
  • Summer programs that give "scholarships" also have another category of player:  "Fund-Raiser"  Trust me, you don't want to be in the latter group, and whether anyone will ever admit it, this group does exist.  Sometimes the B squad pays and the A squad plays.
  • Programs that ask their teams to fix results "for the good of the organization" are not programs you want to be involved with.  If the "Red" team is told to allow the "Blue" team to win to set a bracket, arrange a championship match up or any other reason, you don't want to play there.  What does that tell the kids on the team that sacrifices for the organization?  That's right, they don't mean a damned thing, and the A squad is where its at.
  • Once your son signs a scholarship it CANNOT be taken away by a phone call from a summer coach.  Listen, people want to scare you with their influence, but two things are at work here, 1. Once you sign that scholarship, you're locked in unless you get cut.  2. Reread the first point in these bullets.  No coach in the world is gonna go "Oh, is that right, Billy Greatcoach? You think Sammy is a terd and I should rescind his offer...  Right away sir, and while we're at it, why don't you head on down to the ballpark and make out my lineup!!"

Now for the most important piece of information you need to know about summer ball:  If your son is an outstanding ballplayer, he doesn't need summer ball to get signed.  Unless you live in the middle of nowhere and your son plays for an absolutely terrible team, if he's good, someone is going to like him.  That's if he's good, now.  That doesn't mean that mom and dad think he's an all star so it must be true....  That means that the kid puts up numbers and has athletic ability that everyone can see.  Here's a tip for parents to help evaluate where their son is at, and I promise, I don't mean to be insulting or snarky, but these are the things we hear every day is this is what they almost always mean...  Here are some translations:

"Well, he ain't real big and he ain't gonna hit it out of the park, but he's the hardest worker on the team and he's got lots of heart."

Translation:  He's the little guy that plays real hard and everyone loves, but when its all said and done, he's just not very good.

"He's not gonna blow it by anybody, but if he hits his spots he can get some folks out."

Translation:  He throws about 74-78 MPH, and he gets average high school hitters out often enough to be effective.  Hell, he may even win alot of ballgames in high school, but he's the 3rd or 4th guy down the line and unless he has pinpoint control, he's not gonna get good hitters out.

"He's got a GREAT arm, but he's a little raw.  If he had someone to work with him......."

Translation:  This guy has no idea where the ball is going after it leaves his hand....  Someone is gonna sign him though, and fortunately, some of these guys work out in the end. 

"He can hit it a mile, but if he had a little more discipline he'd be the best hitter on the team."

Translation:  He probably hits 6th in high school and he launches 3-5 homers in a season, but he's only gonna hit .275 because he swings at every pitch. 

So what am I getting at?  If the primary ways your son is described are "he hustles", "he's got heart", "he's a hard worker", or if it starts with something like "Well, he's not....  BUT", the odds are, he's a solid high school player, but he's just an average player.

Most good players are described a little more directly:  "Man, this kid can play...  He runs a 6.7, bumps 87 off the mound, plays a damned good 3rd base, and he can really hit." or "He the best kid on the team, he's got power, speed, and he's wearing out region pitchers." or possibly "If we didn't have , he'd be the best player out here."

THEN after they tell you that, they follow it up with the "AND he always hustles, works his tail off and he knows how to win."

I hope I've gotten the idea I've meant to convey across, and if not, comment and tell me about it, I'd love to continue the discussion!

Oh yeah, stay tuned either tomorrow or Monday when I'll be finishing up my "Shoes to be filled..." series, and check out our team website at!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 3

Here are 4 more Pirates that we’ll be replacing in ’10-’11. As I’ve been working on these posts and sifting through memories and numbers as deeply as I am, 2 things have really occurred to me.

  1. It’s easy sometimes, even for me, to take for granted how close you get with your club after spending so much time together in the trenches.
  2. How exciting it is going to be next year having so many new faces and a team with unlimited potential waiting to forge their own unique identity.

With those thoughts in mind, here are some more shoes waiting to be filled:

Derek Varnadore, RHP - Dominant and consistent are the two words that pop into mind when I think about Varnadore. Dominant because the guy whiffed 197 hitters in 161 and 1/3 innings, not to mention the fact that he went 13-6 in his career and 7-1 in 2010. Consistent because in each of his two seasons at Chatt Valley he threw 80 and 2/3 innings, allowed just 35 earned runs, walked only 30 hitters, allowed only 85 hits and struck out about 100 hitters. His lines were so similar that in 2009 he faced 321 hitters and in 2010 he saw 320. How’s that for consistency? Varny has been no stranger to big games either. In 2009 he was a conference starter as a freshman, and if it weren’t for a handful of mistakes by our club, he probably would have racked up 10 wins. He was asked to come in and clean up a mess against a tough Wallace-Hanceville team in the ACCC tournament that year and responded by tossing 6 and 1/3 innings in relief allowing just 3 hits and striking out 8. He followed that up with a 6 inning, 7 strikeout performance just two days later against Southern Union. By the time we started the season in 2010, the expectations on Varnadore could not have been any higher. To open the season, he threw in front of 18 Major League scouts, firing 93-94 MPH fastballs past hitters for 4 innings. Not bad for a guy that came to us from Oconee County topping out at 87 only 16 months earlier. Varny served as our Friday night starter in 2010, and without a doubt, not a single team we faced all year was looking forward to stepping in against the intimidating righty. He brought to the mound an aggressive attitude, and he brought to our team a front line starter that you handed the ball knowing that when you got it back, it was going to be with a lead. We didn’t send Varnadore out to pitch, we unleashed him on the opposition. He has signed to play at Auburn University next fall and is likely to be selected in the June 5 Major League Draft.

Kevin Putkonen, OF - Sometimes you spend 10 months recruiting a guy and after running the treadmill you sign him. Sometimes you run that treadmill and you lose him. Sometimes, inexplicably, a fantastic player just falls into your lap. Put’s was a case of the latter. In October of 2007 I got a phone call from Kash Beauchamp, a well known baseball man from Phenix City who played at CV a while back and spent some time playing and managing in the minor leagues, telling me that he had a kid from Windsor, CT that might be able to help us. The honest to God’s truth is that I had no idea what to expect, but he had the kid in town and asked if he could bring him over for a workout. Turns out, the kid had a sweet left handed swing and the ball jumped off of his bat. We offered him on the spot, and he agreed on the spot, making Kevin Putkonen arguably the best player we never had to work to get. It didn’t take Put very long to get going, either. He blasted 18 dingers in his career at CV, hammering 9 each year, and he drove in an impressive 95 runs in the process. Put also put up a .329 average and smacked 19 doubles in the pinstripes… And he did a lot of this after missing the entire 2009 fall with a shoulder injury. Had he been able to work out all fall, I have no doubt that his already impressive .329-9-52 line would have been even better. Put was also a great guy to have around off the field. He always had a good thing to say about everybody he met, couldn’t get enough time in the weight room, and he was a tireless worker and a quality student. I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know Kevin on a personal level, and I consider him to be a good friend. Kevin has signed to play at Samford University next fall.

Matt Black, 1B/3B - What do you say about a guy who hit .351 with 20 doubles and 100 RBI’s in 92 games while sporting arguably the best leather at first base in the league? He’s damn good, that’s what. Matty was a big time run producer for us over the last two seasons. In an injury shortened 2010 season in which he only played 35 games, he still managed to drill opposing pitchers to the tune of a .388 batting average with 47 RBI’s. His career total of 100 places him dead even for the all-time Pirate lead, and he was on pace to obliterate the record when injuries and rain outs kept him out of at least 20 games this year. Matt was a quiet leader for us at Chatt Valley, never speaking unless he had something worth listening to say, and never asking his teammates to do something he wasn’t willing to do in return. When it was time to get going though, he’d be the guy right in the middle of it, ready to smoke a base clearing double, or to dig a tough throw out to bail out an infielder. Matt was and is everything you want from a player as a coach. He always gave his best effort, he never let his teammates down, and he was the first to take responsibility for his actions. I know I’ve said this about every guy on this list, but sticking true to the trend, you couldn’t ask for a better man to have on your team than Matt Black. Matt has received numerous scholarship opportunities to play at the DI level, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.

Lawrence Jackson, OF - Larry was a transfer for us this year from Andrew College in Cuthbert, GA. At Andrew he had an impressive freshman year, batting .325 with 5 homers and 45 RBI’s. Though he was forced to platoon this season in an outfield that was loaded with talent, he was still able to post quality numbers and bring explosiveness to our lineup. In 62 at bats, Lawrence batted a solid .306 with 4 doubles, 16 runs, 16 RBI’s and 2 homers. In addition, he took 10 hit by pitches and turned in more than a handful of clutch pinch hit performances. His bat was crucial in victories over conference rivals CACC and Wallace-Dothan, and against non conference foes Darton and Middle Georgia. Jackson possesses well above average speed and outstanding power at the plate. He is a tough competitor and a consummate team player who always put the team’s benefit above his own. He’s also got a hell of a sense of humor, and he’s always willing to laugh at himself. Larry gave us flexibility in the outfield and at designated hitter that we had never had before, as he was one of 6 guys to see regular action in the Pirate outfield. He also gave us a reliable bat off the bench, collecting a team leading 5 pinch hits on the year. It takes a special kind of guy to come into a situation knowing there are 4 returning starters, but Larry did it and even found a way to carve his own niche in our offense. He’s a first class guy, a first class personality, and he’s going to make an immediate impact wherever he lands next fall. Lawrence has received several scholarship opportunities to play at the DII and NAIA level next fall, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 2

In part 2 of the “Shoes to be Filled” series I’ll be discussing 4 more of the players that the 2010-2011 Pirates will be replacing.

In response to a couple questions I’ve gotten, these players are listed in number order, and their career stats can be found at Just click the stats link on the right hand side to be whisked away to the ACCC stats page.

Here are part 2’s shoes to be filled:

Ryan Holland, SS/3B – You could probably argue that Holland was the best all around player in the ACCC this past season. The ironic part is that we got him from Georgia College, where he’d spent one year red-shirting and another on the bench with very limited playing time. I’m not sure who they had in front of him, but they must have been damned good, because he spent the entire year in our 3 hole and spent time starting at both short stop and third base. As a matter of fact, he was the only player this past season to start every single game we played. “Hollywood” banged out a .358 average, while leading the team with an incredible 67 runs, 63 runs batted in, 12 doubles, and 40 walks. He also led the club with 11 homers, 5 of which were grand slams, and if that weren’t astounding enough, 3 of them came in consecutive games in a series against ACCC South rival Wallace-Dothan. In that series alone, he went 7-12 with 13 RBI’s and was named National Player of the Week for NJCAA DI. All Conference selections have yet to be made, but along with several other Pirates, Holland should be a lock for the team. In addition to his gaudy numbers in traditional categories, Holland also made opposing pitchers work harder than any other player on the CV roster, and almost certainly, the entire country. Holland saw an average of 4.6 pitches per at bat and an amazing 1081 total pitches. I’ll go a little deeper into the importance of this stat later in my blog, but anyone that’s been around our ball club for the past few years knows that I hold this particular number in high esteem. Defensively we couldn’t have asked for much better either. He played both short and third as close to flawlessly as you could ask from a player, and there wasn’t a play he couldn’t make. Holly wasn’t just a numbers machine for us this year though… He is a true student of the game. Only a few other players that have come through Chatt Valley have had as high a baseball IQ as Ryan has. His instincts were incredible, and his ability to see the game happening and react properly were second to none. With all of that said about the guy, he never tried to be bigger than the game, never had to be told to get after it (that means hustle and work hard), and never hesitated to offer or ask for help. Ryan was a special player and his presence in the lineup and in the dugout will surely be missed. He has signed to play for the University of Maryland next fall.

Chris Graves, RHP – Any coach, manager, or baseball analyst will tell you that any team without reliable pitching out of the bullpen isn’t gonna be much of a factor in the standings. Fortunately, we had “Fun-Guy”. The name Fun-Guy was coined by yours truly this fall after spending just a few weeks with Graves. Always quick to laugh or tell a joke, Graves immediately made a impact for us in the dugout and on the mound. The most difficult decision with Chris was how to use him. Usually, when a pitcher arrives in college he quickly falls into a role in which he excels. In Graves’ case, he literally excelled in all of them. We could have used him as a starter, reliever, or a closer, and most likely, the results would have been just as good. Is it was, we felt that he could have the greatest impact as the first guy out of the bullpen. I’ll have to give us a little credit here: We were dead on. Chris appeared in 18 games (second on the club), posted a 4-2 record with 40 strikeouts against only 12 walks in 46 and 2/3 innings. In one of his few starts, he even tossed a 4 hit shutout against Andrew College. He also turned in a clutch performance against ACCC rival CACC in the series opener with them by allowing only 2 hits in 15 at bats with 6 K’s over 4 innings of relief work to claim a huge win for us. The best thing about Graves was that he always wanted the ball. Win or lose, good or bad, he never shied away from the game and always went out there to compete. He may have even made one of the three best plays of the year, scooping up a base-hit bunt attempt right off the third base line and then finishing the play with a Derek Jeter-esque jump throw to nail the runner at 1st and end the inning. Chris has signed to play at Columbus State University next fall.

Ryan Noelte, OF – Noelte is one of the best stories we’ve had in my six years at CV. He barely played in high school, and he was essentially cast off as a guy with athleticism that never really planned out. He’d made plans with a friend to go to Kennesaw State University and give up baseball when by chance, he decided to come to our open tryout in May of 2008. If you’ve been following this blog, you know what my thoughts on open tryouts are. Noelte is the reason every team should keep having them… He shows up to our tryout, runs a 6.6 60, smashes every pitch in BP, and THEN goes out and pumps 88 off the mound from the left side! I looked at Adam and said “Holy shit, where’s this guy been??” Obviously, we decided to give Nolt a shot. Now, I do have to say, he didn’t quite pan out on the hill for us, but for a guy that apparently wasn’t good enough (yeah right...) to play in high school, he didn’t waste much time pounding out 61 hits and a .401 batting average his freshman year. All told, he finished his Pirate career with a .364 batting average, 96 total bases, 14 steals, and 61 runs scored. He also used that 6.6 speed to hawk down balls in left and center field, and he probably scored from first base more than any other player in the league. Ryan is also one of the most genuinely good guys you’ll ever meet. He’s the first guy to come pat someone on the back, and I’ve never met a soul that didn’t speak highly of him. I think it’s safe to say that the most difficult thing to replace with Nolt leaving is his personality. He has signed to play at Valdosta State University next fall.

Grason Wiggins, SS – Wiggy will be the first guy to tell you that he’s been around the block when it comes to collegiate baseball. I think he’d also be the first to tell you that in Chatt Valley, he finally found a home. After spending a red-shirt year at the University of Louisville, he spent a semester at Chipola Junior College before playing his freshman year at Pensacola Junior College. While at Pensacola, Grason signed to play at Charleston Southern University, but transfer requirements left him without a place to play last fall. Fortunately for us, when he learned that Charleston Southern wouldn’t be an option for him , he gave us a call. Playing primarily short stop, but spending some time at both second and third, Wiggy hit a solid .331 with 3 bleezies, 2 of which were game winners (one was a walk off), and he drove in 27 runs while scoring 37. Grason also flashes a pretty slick glove, too. His defensive play was so good, outstanding in fact, that we made a permanent move mid way through the year with Wiggins taking the full time reigns at short and Ryan Holland sliding over to third. In the regular season series against CACC, Wiggins made no less than 5 game saving plays including an amazing diving stop up the middle to start a 6-4-3 double play to end a threat and seal a victory. Grason’s range, quickness, and smooth hands were the class of the ACCC, and his ability to make plays in tight situations are going to be welcome additions at the next stop in his career. Off the field, his intelligence, sense of humor, and good heart make him a well liked and very well adjusted young man. Grason has signed to play at the University of South Carolina Upstate next fall.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shoes to be filled...

I’d previously considered the thought that starting this blog at the beginning of the summer would be problematic… Especially considering “next season” doesn’t really get too interesting until next fall. Fortunately, this will give me an opportunity to introduce you guys to our club, give you guys position by position previews for this fall, and allow me to cover a few other topics as well as give a few reports on the summer team I coach, the Columbus Woodbats.

I’m going to start by talking about what we’re going to be replacing next year… I think it’s an important topic, because understanding the monumental task we’ve got in front of us, replacing 17 players (including our entire rotation and starting lineup), is vital to understanding why this is going to be such a fascinating team to follow and watch grow. This post will begin a 4 part series detailing who the outgoing Pirates are and where they are headed.

Without further ado, here are some of the shoes we’re going to be filling:

Nick Stephens, 2B - One of the steadiest players in recent Pirate history, Nick quietly hammered out a .338 average with 4 homers, 50 runs, 40 RBI’s, and 30 walks. Stephens came to Chatt Valley as a short stop from Oconee County High School in the fall of ’08, and his and our expectations for his career were extremely high. He didn’t just meet them, he exceeded them. In 88 games as a Pirate, Nick failed to reach base at least once only 4 times, and only once in 50 games this past season. That’s an astonishing statistic to anyone who follows baseball. At one point, he carried a hit streak through 23 games, including 17 straight in the ACCC. Nick is one of the most dependable defenders to come through CV as well, committing just 6 errors. Most importantly, he is one of the best men and teammates to come through our program since I’ve been a part of it. I don’t know if I have ever seen a young man display as much character and courage as he did his freshman fall, as he had to deal with the tragic and unexpected loss of his father only a few weeks into the semester. I’m not sure how he managed to make it through such a hard time, but despite his family’s hardship, he persevered. I hope in some small way, playing ball at CV and finishing what his father had seen him start, helped him through that difficult time. I know seeing his courage made me a better man for it, and I’m proud to have been his coach for the last two year. Nick has received a scholarship to play at Valdosta State University next fall.

Jeff Shields, RHP/SS - 12-2, a 1.60, 98K’s vs. 35BB’s in 95 1/3 innings, and an opponent’s batting average of .207. Is there anything else that needs to be said about how much this guy will be missed? No? Well, I’m gonna say a few things anyway. Jeff came out of Central Gwinnett High School as a short stop and a pitcher. He’d been a solid player in high school, but he was very raw and hadn’t had a ton of coaching yet. His arm was good, he’d pop 87 on the gun and once in a while a little more, and he was arguably one of the best, if a little unpolished, athletes we’d had come through. His freshman campaign was strong, though he didn’t pitch much. He was our starting short stop, and he I don’t want to minimize this: He was a damned good one too. In fact, with the exception of another guy who will be mentioned in this series, he committed fewer errors than any other short stop we’ve had in my tenure. His sophomore season wouldn’t be defined by his play on the infield though… It was measured by what he did on the mound. Focusing strictly on pitching this year, Jeff’s velocity jumped as high as 95, and he regularly pitched at 90-92 MPH with what a St. Louis scout described as “average to above average Major League sink”. If that wasn’t enough, he complimented his fastball with a very good assortment of off speed stuff. “Piece”, as his teammates called him (as a freshman, Jeff liked to refer to everything as a “--Piece”, for example a slider was a “slide-piece”, cheese was a “yellow-piece”, and almost everything else was some sort of “piece” too), dominated opponents this year, tossing 10 straight wins and posting the lowest earned run average for a starting pitcher in my 6 years on the staff. He has signed a scholarship to play at the University of Georgia next year, and he will likely be selected in this year’s draft.

Tom Richardson, C - As a 2 year starter at catcher, Tom or “Wally”, was the most productive offensive backstop in the league, hands down. He hit .360 in 331 at bats with 12 bombs, and 79 RBI’s in his Chatt Valley career. He also controlled the running game, throwing out nearly 50% of opposing runners that tested him, and he was unquestionably one of the hardest working players that has ever come through our program. As it turns out, he was one of the hardest hitting, as in football hitting, players we’ve ever had too… During the Alabama Southern series he came charging out of the dugout at full speed with his head down and accidentally knocked me flat on my back. I just happened to have been walking right in front of him with my head turned toward the outfield when he came blasting toward his position, and neither of us ever saw the other until I was on my ass and he was staring down at me wondering what to do. Stunned, I gave the ok for everyone to fall over laughing and spent the next 5 minutes clearing the cobwebs out of my head. If his baseball prowess weren’t enough, Tom is probably one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet, and he was one of the most fun guys to have on a team that anyone could ask for. Whether it was keeping the mood light on the bus or at practice or taking dry swings in his skivvies at CACC, he’d always keep you laughing. I’m pretty sure I’ll miss the screamers he planted off our left center field wall too, but as a guy, he’ll always be irreplaceable. He’s the kind of guy you hope marries your daughter, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s the guy you want at the plate when you need a base clearing double in the 7th. Tom is signed to play at Georgia Southern University next fall.

Chris Duncan, CF - Duncan… Well, Cruncan or Harvey Duncman to his teammates, is your prototypical lead-off hitter with blazing speed, a good eye, and he is a total pain in the ass on the base paths for opposing teams. Not only did he post .368 batting average (and an .890 post season average) while scoring 34 runs and swiping 15 bags, but he forced the opposing team into action on every pitch any time he was in the box or on base. I can only imagine the headaches he must have caused the opposition’s coaches as he made a living out of making the defense miserable. I remember telling our head coach, Adam Thomas, when Dunc was a freshman that it didn’t matter what he did personally, we won when he was in the game. In two years, when Chris played in the majority of a game, our record was 34-7. It was 29-3 this past year. Was it all because of him? Well, maybe not ALL, but there is something about him. He is a winner. He gets your team going, he keeps you in the ballgame, and it doesn’t matter who you play, Duncan is fearless. I was fortunate enough to have gotten to coach him for 3 years, and if he hadn’t suffered a hamstring injury in ’08, I’d wager that his .368 average from this past season would have applied for his entire career. Chris has signed to play at the University of West Alabama next year.


Friday, May 21, 2010

"Junior college?? Ok, so how good are you??"

You'd be amazed how often people ask me this...  Actually, you'd be amazed at how many other stupid questions they ask too....  For example, a common question is:  "Are you guys, like, JV or something?"

Like, no, we're not...  JV teams are JV teams(AKA "fundraisers" in most cases, sadly), we're the real deal, or as Jake Taylor from Major League would say, "We've got uniforms and everything."

So then, how good are we and who wants to come to a JUCO to play baseball?

Well, we're pretty darn good.  Most of the players that come through Chatt Valley and other similar JUCO programs are guys who just as easily could have gone to a 4 year school but opted not to for one of several reasons:
  1. They are a draft-pick caliber player and don't want to wait until their junior year to go pro
  2. They feel like they have a better shot at starting as a freshman at a two year school
  3. Their grades or test scores didn't qualify them out of high school and they need to strengthen their academics
Of course, there are some guys who end up in JUCO because they weren't quite ready to play at the 4 year level, and there are even some programs that are comprised entirely of these players, but if we're talking competetive JUCO programs, one of the three reasons above is most likely.

In terms of talent, the difference is much smaller than people think.  Ok, so maybe the down the line fellas aren't quite as sporty as the back-ups at a good 4 year school, but the front line guys?  Who do you think fills the rosters at 4year schools?  You guessed it, JUCO players.  Almost every single 4 year school in the country have several JUCO transfers in their starting lineup, so the proof is in the pudding.

The real difference comes down to one thing, EXPERIENCE.  You cannot teach it, you can't earn it in practice, and you don't get it by watching.  Unless we're talking about the top 30 or 40 D I programs, the biggest difference from between our level and theirs is experience.  Our "seniors", i.e. guys that played for us and have moved on, win All-Conference awards year in and year out at their new institutions...  I can only imagine what it would be like to get to keep them together at our place for 4 full years...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Open tryouts: The truth, and what you ought to do instead.

Ok, so we had our last open tryout of the year this afternoon. Essentially, this is the final piece of the puzzle when you're building a roster for the upcoming season... With one exception: If you don't find a piece that fits, your puzzle still works just fine.  We didn't find any pieces this year...

I think alot of people have this perception that open tryouts are good way to gain exposure and possibly land a spot on a collegiate team.

Here's the truth:
  • Most college programs only carry 1-3 players that they have acquired via an open tryout
  • Sadly, most programs run open tryouts not because they want to, but because they are required to
  • A few good players DO come to these things, but as a rule, for every one solid guy that shows, there are 15 that don't belong there.
  • Coaches don't hate or dislike these tryouts, but they rarely look forward to them.
  • The odds of anyone making a good team at an open tryout are probably only about 1 in 30
"Ok coach now that you've crushed my dreams, what's a better way to get seen??"

First of all, start looking for workouts in the summer prior to your senior year.  By January, 50% of the scholarships will be signed and all but maybe 10% will have already been offered.  When you find a school that you like, contact a coach (head or assistant, most programs are recruiting with everyone on their staff so who you talk to doesn't matter much)
 and ask if there is a day you an come workout with THEIR TEAM.  You do not want a tryout.  You want to workout with their team.  Big difference.  When you're calling coaches, here's a tip:  Call between 8AM and 11AM.  After that, most of us are grabbing a bite and then heading to the ballfield for the day.  If you don't get an answer, leave a message and send an email.   

Your goal should be to get on the field with the team of the schools your interested, and you want to do this before mid October if possible.   If you can't get it done by mid October, try to get a workout in by mid-march.  Can you still find a place after that??  Sure, but odds are you won't, and odds are even worse that you'll get a scholarship or on a team that really needs you.

"Are there any fool proof methods of finding a team??"

Of course.  Be awesome.  No, seriously, play for a good program in a good league against good teams and play very well.  If your high school team is only average or is in a weaker classification or region, find a good summer program run by someone who isn't a used car salesman and put up great numbers.

Either way, high school or summer, if you play for a program that competes for championships or is at least in a very tough league, you'll get seen....  If you play well, coaches will come after you with the same enthusiasm that you'd go after them.

"If none of that works, should I just forget about it and not bother with a tryout??"

Well, not really, but it all depends.  Were you one of the three best players on your high school team?  Can you run a sub 6.8 60 or mash bleezies(that's slang for homers at Chatt Valley)?  Do you throw 85MPH+?  If the answer to any of those is yes, then you should absolutely go to open tryouts.  Some guys DO fall between the cracks and some other guys never get a fair shake in high school and just need a shot. 

We've had a few guys  make it at Chatt Valley against all odds from open tryouts.  One of them, a (now) former player named Ryan Noelte ran a 6.6, smashed balls all over the place and threw 88 of the bump 3 years ago at our open tryout, despite having played only sparingly in high school.  Why he didn't play, I'm not sure, but he ended up hitting .401 as a freshman for us and starting in center field.  After another outstanding year this season, he has signed a scholarship to play at Valdosta State University in the fall.

So you see, sometimes great stories do come from long shot tryouts, but I wouldn't recommend relying on it happening to you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It all begins with the end of a season.

So here I am, another baseball season at Chattahoochee Valley Community College has ended, and in a few short months another will begin. The 2010 season was by far the best season we've had in my 6 years at Chatt Valley. It was also perhaps the most disappointing.

Coming into the season, I knew we were going to have a special group of players, and it was certain, in my mind at least, that we would make a serious run at the conference championship and possibly the JUCO world series. We were returning 3 big time starting pitchers, all of whom were locks to sign division I scholarships, and all of which would most likely end up getting drafted. If that wasn't enough, we'd be bringing back back 7 of 9 of our starters from 2009's offense and importing 2-5 impact players via transfer and recruiting.

With such an experienced group, we hit the ground running in the fall by tearing through every opponent we faced in our exhibition season, and we immediately began drawing considerable attention from scouts, coaches, and opposing players. We were good and everyone knew it.

The spring was pretty much the same story. We opened up with an 18 run thumping of Andrew College and never looked back. By the time we caught our breath we were 36-4 and had just rattled of a 20 game winning streak. We weren't just winning, either... We were destroying people. We took 15 wins by the 10 run mercy rule, and we were AVERAGING over 10 runs per game. Even when we finally lost our 5th game of the season, it took an amazing effort to beat us, and we returned the favor with a 26-4 drumming the following day. At season's end, we were the number 2 team in the nation and we'd finished 41-6 overall and 24-3 in the ACCC, easily capturing the ACCC Southern Division Title.

Then, in one night, it wasn't good enough. We played a familiar opponent in the ACCC Tourney opener drawing Central Alabama CC. We'd beaten CACC three times during the year, but they were one of the few teams that played us tough, and we knew they would come into the game hungry to beat us. We threw our Friday starter at them, and we liked the matchup, but as it goes in baseball, things didn't go quite the way we'd planned. Despite having the best fielding percentage in the league during the regular season, we committed two errors in the first inning but were fortunate enough to avoid giving up any runs. Our starter, who went 7-1 with 103K's in just 80.3 innings, wasn't quite as sharp as he'd been (though he wasn't bad, and he wasn't helped by what appeared to be an uncharacteristically small strike zone or our inability to play defense behind him), and the combination of our defensive mistakes, his lack of command, and CACC's desire to beat us put us in a 6-2 hole that we'd never climb out of. If our defensive woes weren't enough, our offense couldn't seem to get the wheels rolling either, and suddenly a team that hit .351 and scored 10.6 runs per game couldn't get anything to fall.

I want to make sure I don't neglect this part either: CACC played a perfect game. They made every play, they got the hits they needed, and the back breaker was that their starter was outstanding. For one night, we weren't the best team in the league, they were, and because of it, the curtain was starting to drop what was going to be our "historic" season. We'd gone into the tournament expecting to run through it, and when the dust cleared on day one, instead of preparing to bulldoze our way through the field, we were shell-shocked and looking at a bracket that would require 6 wins in 4 days... Long story short, the best season in the history of CVCC baseball ended abruptly and after just 3 games in the ACCC tournament.

That's how fast it ends...

It's been a week now, and though I still have a bitter taste in my mouth, there is one comforting thought: The fall is just around the corner.

In 3 months, we'll have 20+ fresh faces and a handful of veterans all with high hopes, and once again, the sky will be the limit.

A Baseball Coach's Blog

For a while now, I've toyed with the idea of creating a blog or journal that follows myself and my team through the entirety of a season. With that purpose in mind, here are a few details to get me going:

First off, I'm going to write this under the assumption that if you're reading it, you have a working knowledge of the game of baseball. If you don't, there may be times where I use jargon you may or may not understand... Don't hesitate to ask me to clarify.

I am the assistant baseball coach at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, AL. I've just completed my 6th season with CV(we're the Pirates, by the way), and this fall I'll be entering my 7th. We've gone 234-102 in the 6 years I've been with the team, held a national ranking as high as number 2, bee o a region tournament 6 times, won the conference once, had over 60 players move on to 4 year schools and had 13 get drafted or sign professional contracts(with several more on the way this June). In short: we've been good, we expect to be good, and most of my opinions or comments will be based on those expectations.

I serve as the hitting instructor and infield coach, and I primarily work with position players, though I often work individually with pitchers who are struggling.

In this blog you'll get alook inside my team, this wonderful game, and my mind as we make our way through another season at Chatt Valley.

This is a baseball story.