The Other Foot

As a person who has covered recruiting close to a decade and followed it even longer, I always felt I had a good handle on how the process worked. I know about promotion, evaluation and the little things you pick up as a guy on the outside looking in, but my entire vantage point changed when my child was the prospect and it was his future that hung in the balance.

Like most high school athletes, my son Oni has always dreamed of playing beyond the high school level.

After signing a baseball scholarship with Coahoma Community College, his dream is on the verge of being realized.

At the heart of things, recruiting is simply a glorified version of picking teams where most kids don't get picked.

I know how truly blessed our family is for our son to have the chance to continue playing, while many others with the same aspirations and dreams will begin to search for the next chapter of their lives without the sport they love.

As a parent, coach and fan, I can tell you that the recruiting process is not for the faint of heart when it involves your child.

I remember just under four years ago, I was just hopeful that he would earn a varsity roster spot and find a way to contribute on his high school team.

My hope and prayer then was that Oni would have the chance to enjoy the high school experience and develop the pride and bond that goes along with wearing your school colors and competing for a common goal.

Anything else would have simply been a bonus.

As the high school experience moved on there were All-District selections, post season honors, letterman jackets and all of the rest.

At some point, we began to dream big dreams along with our child and we began to believe in the real possibility of playing beyond the high school level.

So where do you begin?

There really isn't a manual out there or a roadmap to follow for getting your son's name into the available talent pool and on the recruiting radar.

We tried a little bit of everything and we had mixed results with just about all of it.

Everybody will tell you that your son needs to play travel team baseball in order to boost his recruiting stock.

There are some really good programs out there that really help their players get exposure.

Those teams are often very pricey and require a tryout. The most successful teams will have tons of applicants willing to pay more and more for a roster spot.

One of the things that I have learned is that there are a lot of teams out there created by the fathers of kids who weren't good enough to make somebody else's team.

I have heard most of the sales pitches from the summer league coaches and frankly a lot of them are more concerned about finding a roster full of paying parents rather than a roster of talented baseball players.

Trust me I get it. Everybody has expenses, but you have to be careful not to get mixed up with a team that provides you with more expense than opportunity.

Ask questions, get references and don't be afraid to look around.

You can find somebody to play with locally just to stay in good baseball shape, but don't join a travel team just to get reps.

If you are not getting exposure, then that is a waste of your time and money.

We have had some good experiences and some bad ones when it has come to showcases.

Everybody is doing a showcase it seems and the fees get higher and higher without much additional benefit to the players.

Don't be fooled into thinking that things are exclusive or invite only. They are never going to turn away people willing to pay.

Showcases are a for profit business and don't ever forget that.

There are usually some coaches at the better events and those are the ones worth attending.

When you go, you have to stand out. You can't blend into the crowd and expect to get interest from those coaches.

Don't depend on the camp personnel to ensure you get your reps either. Speak up and take your reps.

Some of those events are an absolute joke and one of the worst ones we attended was held on the college campus of a D1 university.

Oni got six pitches to hit. Three of which bounced in front of the plate.

Despite that, I was pleased with the feedback we received from some junior college programs who appeared to have some real interest.

Two players in our grouping did not get any cage time before they were hitting live on the playing field.

One player never hit a ball in fair territory and the other hit a couple of nice line drives to just about every field.

As fate would have it, the foul ball king was rated a D1 hitter and the other player was given a less than favorable grade.

I am a firm believer in getting out and getting evaluated even if the only reason you do it is to learn where you stand against the rest of the prospects.

You learn a lot about your player when you go to these events because you are going to see players above and below his skill level.

At two showcases, we were told that Oni's best pitch was his change-up because he had the same arm action and arm slot as his fastball, but he could change speeds up to 15 miles per hour difference.

That little bit of information gave him the confidence needed to throw that pitch with more regularity.

Another thing we learned is that he had a lot of work to do to get bigger, stronger, faster and more visible as a player.

I think seeing 120 + different faces at various showcases and camps showed him how many other guys were chasing the same dream and offers he was.

We even used a scouting service to help us promote him and give us access to more schools.

As someone in the business of covering recruiting, I can tell you I am not a big supporter of these businesses, especially for football.

I can tell you that when it's your child, you are willing to listen to other people who can help you.

I believe wholeheartedly that the recruiting service helped us and afforded us the ability to have contact with more schools.

I think when it was said and done, we heard from over 60 different baseball programs.

Several stayed in touch and most invited Oni to camp.

A few offered, but in the end Oni wanted to stay closer to home and play junior college ball in hopes of making the D1 level one day.

I can tell you that waiting for the right offer is a taxing ordeal for everyone involved.

I did my best to shield Oni and my wife from all of the ups and downs of the process. I wanted Oni to play ball and mama to just be mama.

You hear a lot of talk and most of it is positive, but not everybody that talks good offers a scholarship.

I have learned that if you can convince people that you have the ability to handle the truth that people will tell you the truth if you ask them for it.

Two D1 coaches told me that they liked Oni, but felt he needed to go to JuCo for a couple of years to mature more physically and get stronger.

That type of information was invaluable to us and I don't believe we would have been given that information had I not asked for it.

With that knowledge in mind, we tailored our approach to recruiting.

As a family, we felt junior college was going to be the best route for Oni and his long term future.

We had contact with a lot of junior colleges and ideally we hoped for a chance to play in Louisiana or Mississippi.

Some of the coaches we talked with simply didn't have an out of state scholarship for Oni.

A few did and told us they would stay in touch as they worked on the numbers.

Our talks with Kenny Strong at Coahoma were very positive and productive.

We felt comfortable with them even before they extended the offer.

I just had a feeling that it was going to work out and from the moment they extended the formal offer, things just felt right.

Within 72 hours of Coahoma offering, we heard from 16 other schools many of who asked us if we were willing to prolong the process a little longer.

Some wanted us to come visit them before we went to Coahoma, but Oni had no interest in taking those trips without an offer.

Frankly, it kind of makes you mad that people wait for other schools to offer and then contact you expecting you to delay the process while they figure out which direction to take with your child.

Where was this sense of urgency before Coahoma offered?

In the end, Oni signed with Coahoma and Coach Strong within about twenty minutes of our arrival in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

We had prayed about everything, but in the end Oni had to be the one making the decision.

Before we ever visited a classroom, took a tour or even saw the baseball field, Oni was ready to sign.

When you know what you really want to do, the fine details really don't matter much.

Oni will toe the rubber at Broadmoor High School one final time next Saturday on senior day.

Thankfully, he will have baseball after Broadmoor and the ride has all been worth the effort.

When it has come to team success on the high school level, we have received more squeeze than juice, but Oni will go on to play another day with a new set of friends, new coaches and new school colors.

He is one of the lucky ones, but along with that luck came countless hours of long tossing, batting practice and bullpen work when nobody else was watching.

Travel teams, showcases and scouting services all played a role, but in the end they cannot make Oni or any other player more talented.

The attitude and work ethic must come from within and not much of that makes its' way into the scouting report.

As a parent and soon to be semi-retired high school baseball coach, I can tell you that it is all worth it.

All of the hours spent sitting in the sun drenched stands of summer baseball, all of the miles driven to parts unknown just to shave another tenth of a second off of the 60 yard dash and every e-mail sent to a college coach have all provided value.

There is something special in all of that. There's something about fathers and sons that make all of that seem like an incredibly big deal.

It is a big deal and it is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thankfully for us, Oni's dream came true.

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