I was six years old throwing a rubber baseball off of the brick wall at Warren Elementary, right across the street from where I grew up. I was waiting for my dad, who was inside the school chatting with the director of the Cockeysville Recreation Council. I had only played one year of coach pitch baseball to this point, but I had started to develop an affinity for the game.
On our walk home from Warren, I asked my dad if I could play travel baseball. Little did I know, just moments before, the rec council director had asked my dad if I wanted to fill the last roster opening on the 7-8 team. Dad originally shook off the question, concluding that it was too soon for me and assuming that I wouldn’t be interested. So, when I coincidentally asked about playing, he was stunned.
My parents didn’t really dig the idea, so they subliminally tried to get me to bow out. They told me that all of the kids would be older. Didn’t deter me. They told me that we’d have to travel locally every weekend. Didn’t deter me. Then they told me that I’d have to drive to the first practice with the head coach, a stranger to me at the time, because they couldn’t take me. They thought that’d be the variable to do it, but it didn’t deter me. I still remember that car ride like it was yesterday.
In that first year, I stunk. A bad player on a bad team, plain and simple. It took me like eight games to get my first hit, and it didn’t even leave the infield grass. At some point in that first season, my dad got pulled into the coaching staff. He likes to tell this story about how the head coach was late for a practice and all of the kids only had one baseball (the one I brought), so he organized us into an infield-outfield and ran the first half of practice with one baseball. I cannot confirm or deny that when the head coach finally arrived, he didn’t realize that this was his team, but I can confirm that after that day my dad hopped on board.
My dad then coached me for the next seven years of my life. I was his shortstop until I entered my 13 year old season. His goals for me and my teammates were simple: keep all of his players interested in sports long enough to play in high school and go .500 every year. Through the years we moved around, changed teams, added players, traveled more, and created a successful core of coaches and players to build around. There were ups and there were downs, but that was the point. We learned how to win with class and lose with grace.
My dad’s ultimate goal for me personally was to enjoy the game enough to decide to play in high school and to use the game of baseball to teach me about life. Anything I accomplished beyond that was a bonus to him and my family.
The transition of the 12U age group to the 13U age group is the transition from 60′ bases to 90′ bases, which are the dimensions of high school, college, and professional fields. The transition into those years is when my dad let me go to play for someone else.
For reference, 13U season begins in the spring of 7th grade. This is when a lot of things became real for me. I was still a shortstop and the field size transition wasn’t much different over time. I was an early bloomer in middle school, so I had pretty good size and the athleticism to go with it. Now, if you’re from the Baltimore area, you’ll get this, but if not it’ll seem a little strange. I started to get recruited by local private high schools.
I went on visits, sent applications, the whole nine yards, but I was being just as heavily courted by my local public high school. Dulaney was truly where I wanted to go, so I was looking for reasons to go to private schools as opposed for looking for reasons not to go to Dulaney. I was the 8th grandchild to go there, and my cousin Alex played baseball there before graduating in 2008. The choice was pretty clear, I even played in a fall scrimmage for Dulaney as a 7th grader against McDonogh. 0-3 with three punch-outs against three high school seniors. Is what it is.
My 14U summer was the summer before high school. I switched organizations to join Randy Kail’s Diamond Pros team, and brought a core group of about five guys with me that I had been with for the previous five or six years. We played an outlandish 72 games from April to July and had a record of 57-14-1. That team was legit, but it was a personal struggle for me at times. I came in and took the shortstop position much to some peoples’ chagrin. I didn’t tone those voices out and I didn’t always answer the bell, I probably easily had 40 errors in those 72 games. Winning was great, but it still came with personal failure. But, despite shortcomings, which every player has, there became a new idea that maybe I had shot to play beyond high school.
Entering high school I was blessed with a great situational opportunity. The shortstop from the previous season graduated. In addition to that, Coach Wolfsheimer had built a roster of young players primed to hit their stride together, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. Over the totality of high school baseball, I started every game and played nearly every inning at the varsity level for four years (with the exception of an illicit suspension, a rest day, and a blowout starter pull or two). I wouldn’t trade those years for the world. We officially went 75-11 (82-15 including scrimmages) in those four years. I ended up tallying nine more hits than Dulaney’s all-time hits leader, my cousin Alex. If you’re that curious about any other accomplishments, then Google me I guess. The bottom line is that I had fun, I met my dad’s vision of just playing in high school, and so did every one of my teammates from that 12U team. Every player was a varsity athlete, whether it be golf, football, volleyball, etc… my dad’s goals were met.
Beyond the high school seasons there was summer ball, which was based in college recruitment and therefore required immense travel. We played all over Atlanta, Richmond, Greenville, Boston, Cincinnati, Ft. Myer’s, Virginia Beach, Durham, Baltimore, D.C., Philly, New Jersey, you name it. That was a lot of quality time with family, and most definitely added experiences to say the least. My favorite thing about all of the trips was trying the local food. Never travel and eat at a chain restaurant.
The college recruitment process itself was and is personal to me. I don’t really disclose much about it, but it has its stressors and feel good moments alike. I’ll give a special nod to Matt Darnell and Al McCormick as I did with Randy and Wolf, though. I’ll spread the love and appreciation for what they’ve done, despite it being mostly undisclosed.
I’ve ended up where I’ve ended up, and I’m beyond excited for the years ahead with Towson. That’s the next chapter of the story, but it’s all God’s plan, which brings me to the point of why I wrote all of this.
I wasn’t raised to be what I am. It wasn’t decided that I was going to be a college athlete when I came out of the womb. My parents gave me control of my life and made sure to support me through it. I was a kid that loved a game, and I’ve just followed my heart. There are so many parents out there who want their kid to be a college athlete more than the kid wants it. At all ages, from 6 to 16. They’ll pay for amenities, try to get Twitter likes, pay attention to recruiting polls, all of that nonsense. Just let kids be kids. If you love what you do, you’ll be intrinsically motivated enough work hard at it and trust that there’s a plan for you. Even if it’s not athletics, don’t pigeonhole yourself to one skill or talent, explore all of life’s gifts.
Baseball has been especially important in my life as a relationship builder and a teacher. I could probably take a cross country drive and stay at a different teammates’ house or dorm every night and make it coast to coast and back. I’ve learned from the best, I’ve played with and against the best, and that’s helped me become the best person I can be.
Only in baseball can you go 3 for 10 and be the best. 3 out of every 10 patients healed, you’re a bad doctor. 30% on a test, you’re a failing student. 1.5/5 star rating, you’re a pretty poor restaurant or movie. 3 hits for every 10 at bats, you’re a Hall of Famer.