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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Everything you ever wanted to know about baseball recruiting

    Waterford — An author/comedian named Emily Levine once said this: “When you're surrounded by people who share the same set of assumptions as you, you start to think that's reality.”

    That line applies just about everywhere now, but perhaps nowhere more fittingly than in travel baseball, or travel sports for kids in general. The overarching assumption: Travel begets better competition and a better path toward college, certainly better than your boring old hometown, playing sports with the boring old proletariat.

    Of course, those of us who happen to love their boring hometowns bear sets of assumptions, too. Like perhaps that travel baseball programs, for example, are moneymaking maneuverings with sketchy coaches who think “sliders” are small sandwiches on the appetizer menu at Applebee’s and not how Ron Guidry used to get everybody out.

    The truth? In the middle, as always.

    Speaking of truth, plenty of it hovered for about an hour one night last week at Waterford Babe Ruth’s new warehouse turned baseball facility, at Waterford Commons in the Dick’s shopping plaza next to Party City. Three college coaches spoke to kids and about two dozen parents, deep diving into details about the recruiting process.

    Say this much for Lucas Beaney, the Waterford Babe Ruth President: He’d pass Kevin Ollie’s old test about having “10 toes in.” Beaney’s devotion to his town, kids and program involves all 10 toes, fingers, both nostrils, spleen and every other organ of his soul.

    “You guys are lucky. I grew up in Plainfield. We didn’t have something like this,” said Mitchell College baseball coach Travis Beausoleil, one of the night’s speakers and a man with several trophies on his mantel. “We didn’t have a guy like Lucas doing this for us. You’re lucky you don’t have to spend exorbitant money to play in other programs.”

    Beaney could have been home the same night watching his UConn Huskies. Instead, he gave kids and parents a chance to understand a process that often seems more twisted than a ballpark pretzel.

    “We wanted to help get information out to our players about the recruiting process, so they don't go in blind and make bad decisions,” Beaney said, “like in some cases to leave our program. Or leave (American Legion coach) Joe Mariani, when there's no need to.

    “It's important because a lot of the kids who play travel want to play in college, so they need to know the right way to handle it. There is a right way to handle the recruiting process. Not many people with kids know how to do it. So it's good to get the information out there.”

    Mitchell assistant coach (and Waterford grad) Connor Lewis joined St. Joseph (West Hartford) assistant and Waterford grad Matt Johnson on the panel. They were equal parts edifying and blunt.

    “The first thing I’d tell a kid is to be realistic,” Johnson said. “Every kid has a dream, but if you reach out to seven Division I schools and have only D-3 schools reaching back, that should tell you something. Understand where you are talent-wise. D-3 and D-2 are a lot more competitive than you might think.”

    Then Johnson paused and said, “find schools with majors you are interested in. A place that will make you money in the long run. Baseball is great, but it’s more important to find your academic lane.”

    This was perhaps the night’s prevailing theme. The coaches spent far less time talking about swing paths and well more time talking about academics.

    “Grades open more doors than baseball will,” said Lewis, who pitched at the University of Hartford when it was Div. I. “I got more scholarship money for academics than for baseball.”

    Lewis also reminded the gallery that Div. I programs get no more than 11.7 scholarships, per NCAA rules. Translation: very few Div. I players are on full scholarship.

    “If I had it to do over again,” Johnson said, “I’d have focused harder on the academic piece. I gave myself no options, but was too dumb to realize how being a bad student hinders you.”

    They also spoke of researching prospective colleges and having questions ready for the coaches. The more forthright the prospect, the more detailed the answers.

    “Demand honesty from us,” Beausoleil said, “and do your homework.”

    Beaney and the gang have another discussion ready for Wednesday night, this time with medical personnel about injuries, arms and recovery time.

    Ten toes in.

    “We want to help the kids and the town,” Beaney said. “I was fortunate to play here and had a great experience and I want to give our kids that experience. They can still play for our town and it doesn't affect their future, as some people might say.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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