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Ray Birmingham Explains Amazing System

Ray Birmingham Explains Amazing System

Ray BirminghamBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of the premiere baseball coaches in the USA is Ray Birmingham of the University of New Mexico. The head coach of the Lobos recently celebrated his 1,000th coaching victory with a 19-5 win over Air Force and has been a collegiate head coach for 26 years.

His teams are tougher than boot leather and endure “Marine Day” training sessions at 4 a.m. through the fall to allow the team to bond together. He has been a passionate student of the game every step of the way and has utilized information from such great Hall of Fame coaches as Ed Cheff (Lewis-Clark St.), Lloyd Simmons (Seminole St. J.C., Okla.), Gary Ward (Oklahoma St., New Mexico St.), Tony Gwynn (San Diego Padres, San Diego St.), Andy Lopez (Arizona), Cliff Gustafson (Texas), Ron Polk (Mississippi St.),  Augie Garrido (Texas), Mark Johnson (Texas A&M), Wayne Graham (Rice), and Mark Marquess (Stanford) to name just a few.

From this vast knowledge base, he has come up with a coaching system that is one of the best in the business. He began his coaching career at College of The Southwest and won 53 games in two years before leading New Mexico Junior College to a 765-255-2 record in 18 years and won the 2005 NJCAA national championship.

He has been at the University of New Mexico since 2008 and has led the Lobos to three straight NCAA regionals after UNM had not been to one in 48 years.

Weather, Scheduling Issues
New Mexico always seems to struggle early in the season because of frigid weather in Albuquerque and the talented teams they play. But this toughens them up for conference games and the playoffs following that. As a result, the Lobos usually have a marginal record through 15-20 games prior to conference games starting.

But then New Mexico begins to win and keeps winning through the rest of the season.

“Baseball is a journey to me, and many people get caught in the records of teams, especially early in the season,” said Birmingham.

“But records mean nothing to me at that time because we are focusing on playing the toughest teams we can early because baseball is all about the last man standing.

“And then your ball club will either get tough or die. I want to play Stanford, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona St. and teams like that. If your team doesn’t learn to play against the best teams, how will they compete when the post-season arrives?

“I was inspired by what Stony Brook did last year and what Fresno St. did a few years ago when they won the national championship. We don’t need sunshine. All we need is an opportunity.”

Birmingham acknowledged that generating a great Rating Percentage Index score is tough for New Mexico.

“We usually are a victim of the RPI because we play such a tough schedule early which is very demanding and might not come with a lot of wins. In my first year at New Mexico, we opened up with a 10-game winning streak but didn’t play great teams like we do now early in the season. We scheduled teams that had RPIs in the upper 100s and even into the 200s. I decided after that we needed to play the toughest teams possible which would help our team improve. And it has helped us tremendously.”

Birmingham said the improvement his teams show as the season progresses is the result of other factors as well.

“I am a big believer in team building. We are all teammates and are pushing the rock in the right direction. I will bark at the players if they don’t play it the right way, but I am always pulling for every kid on the squad. I have a real problem with kids who don’t hustle down the line to first or think double on a single. I don’t want our hitters to take a pitch off.

“It is mandatory that we can’t lower the bar when you are striving for excellence. That is the way the game must be played to achieve success. Too many kids arrive in college baseball programs at the age of 17 or 18 and have been told over and over again they are the best at what they do.

“But we have a blue collar approach at New Mexico. We demand hard work from every player on the squad.”

Towel Wrestling, Marine Day

When Birmingham was at New Mexico Junior College, he was legendary for the tough team bonding activities he had his squads perform.

“Kids would run 4-5 miles in the mornings and not just jog. They had to do sprints and run miles. Then in the afternoon, we had the players pair off and did towel wrestling. Both players are on a mat, and one guy grabs one end of the towel and the other player the other end. Then they fight to get the entire towel. It made for some interesting team bonding drills.”

Birmingham said he doesn’t do that at the University of New Mexico because of time constraints with NCAA Division I rules.

“But we do have them run sand hills and do strength and conditioning at 5:30 a.m. We also have ‘Marine Days’ through the fall. Players never know when they are coming. Our guys will get a text message early in the evening the day before that tells them we will have ‘Marine Day’ at the indoor football practice facility the next morning at 4 a.m. And don’t be late!

“Kids are absolutely terrified at first. We have different stations within the indoor facility set up which includes blocking dummies, blocking sleds, harness pulls with heavy weights and others. I show up in battle fatigues. And for the next two hours, our players go through a gut check with an array of calisthenics and exercises. Kids will do 50 yard sprints, pushups, situps, jumping jacks in cadence. If they are not all in unison, they start over.

“The point of all this is that we are counting on everybody to work together. Everybody must do it right or we won’t be successful. And when we face those tough teams early in the schedule and might not do as well as we want, we tend to bounce back and learn from our mistakes as players improve with our great work ethic.”

Birmingham said something wonderful transpires as the kids go through this team building activity.

“Because of how tough this is, they all begin to pull for each other and transform into a team. It is fantastic to watch. I was influenced into doing this as I studied the team building concepts of Ed Cheff at Lewis-Clark St. and Lloyd Simmons at Seminole J.C., Okla. Both are 1,000 game winners, and they are two of the best coaches of all time.”

Birmingham said that he is constantly learning as a coach.

“I am a product of many coaches who I have learned from. I am still learning concepts to help my players. Beyond baseball, you want your kids to do well in the classroom. Our kids always have a grade point average over 3.00. So academically they do well. We want our kids to do well socially and have a great life after baseball.

“When you see kids 20 years after they graduate, it is such a warm feeling when you realize they are good fathers and a leaders in their communities.”

Hitting Philosophy

Birmingham is one of the elite hitting coaches in baseball and has studied the concepts taught by Ward, Gwynn, Charlie Lau and George Brett, to name a few.

When he was at New Mexico Junior College, six players led the nation in batting and six teams hit over .400. The Thunderbirds hit .416 as a team in 2007. The 2005 NMJC national championship team hit .411 during the regular season and .400 in post-season play.

In 2001, the Thunderbirds hit .438 as the team led the country. And in 1998, NMJC led the nation with 122 home runs.

“My philosophy on hitting is the culmination of instruction learned from many people in the game of baseball. In its simplest form, you want the hitter to let the ball travel as far as possible and square up the ball. You want hitters to have proper hitting vision, great hand coordination, utilize the lower half properly, and have a short stroke with the proper bat path. All of these things are vital.

“Drills in our program are used for the players to understand a concept and feel what should be done. We utilize angles a great deal in hitting, and that is a big concept for me. Our hitters use the whole field, and plate discipline is crucial. If you look at our stats, our players walk a lot and don’t strike out much.

“Overswinging is a problem with many hitters. We have had success taking bat speed away from hitters to teach the proper mechanics of the swing. It is surprising how far players can hit the ball by accomplishing this simple concept. They can always speed up their swing later.”

 Birmingham also is big on slowing the game down for his hitters.

“We work very hard at this concept and making the game as simple as it can be. We also work hard at making adjustments with different pitchers such as soft lefties, hard throwers, hurlers who throw in and away. We want our hitters to know what to do in certain counts and make positive outs.

“There is so much to what we teach. In fact, I have a checklist of 250 things I look at for each hitter. We don’t go over all of them at once. Kids are given little pieces of this checklist over time so they can be successful and master concepts.”

Adjustment Interesting

When new players come to New Mexico, whether they be from high schools or junior colleges, they have usually dominated competition at their former school.

“Every hitter wants to be a table cleaner when they come into the program, and that simply isn’t going to happen. We determine who are the table setters and table cleaners. They are told what their role will be, and then through a lot of work, they make it happen.”

Birmingham said that he learned from long time Texas Head Coach Cliff Gustafson that letting hitters fail right off the bat is important when they come into the program. So Birmingham puts them in a situation which will cause failure.

“I tell the kids that to be in pro baseball, they must be able to handle fastballs near 100 mph. That is what they will see in pro ball. So I have a Ponza Hummer pitching machine that is set for the upper 90s and is aimed at the same spot for batters. As they get ready to hit, they know the pitch will be a fastball, and they must catch up to the speed. And this trips them up every time.

“Virtually every kid has a long swing and doesn’t realize it or has a hole that he doesn’t know about. So when they struggle initially, they are now open to suggestions on refining their swing so that it is short and productive. Each hitter has their own style. We don’t want them to dramatically change. But every hitter must do certain basic things. Not everybody has great hand speed who can knock home runs out of the park. But they can be a productive part of the lineup.

“And when suggestions are offered, not every player agrees with what I say. And that’s fine. But over time, we come to an agreement on what should be done to get the most out of our hitters.

“Our hitters are taught physically and mentally because both are crucial. And it is absolutely crucial that they never take a pitch off when batting. Hitting is not always about getting a hit or having great batting averages. For us, we closely observe a player’s on-base percentage. Making productive outs and moving runners over is the right approach for us. It is a team game. But you have individuals playing it.”

Birmingham said that hitters must be able to adjust to different ball parks as well.

“If you play at Arkansas and TCU, those parks were made for pitching. When the wind blows straight in, you can square a pitch up and will almost always make a fly ball out. So hitting is not only pitcher to pitcher adjustments and adjustments in at-bats, we have a strategy for different parks we play in.

“I have always been very passionate about hitting. And listening to the great coaches and hitters of all time which deal with hitting has been a revelation.”

To obtain this issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe,  CLICK HERE.

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

HOUSTON, Tex. — Talk to any pitching coach, and the subject of pitch counts will undoubtedly come up.

While the sport hemorrhaged more than half a billion dollars for players on the disabled list last season, the answer to elbow and shoulder injuries is still an elusive mirage.

On the college, high school and youth baseball levels, elbow and shoulder surgeries to pitchers are costing parents millions of dollars each year. For years, the medical community has recommended that college and professional pitchers throw 120 or fewer pitches a game. 

But that is hardly the total answer when you are dealing with pitching mechanics or hurlers throwing a large number of stressful pitches in one inning. According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball,  pitch counts were not utilized for many years in pro baseball. The main factor was how successful the pitcher was. If his velocity went down or he was laboring, the pitcher was simply taken out. Common sense ruled the day.

Sandy Koufax averaged 155 pitches per game in one season during the early 1960s which was not unusual for that era. Nolan Ryan was an absolute workhorse. He threw 235 pitches in a 12-inning game against the Red Sox in 1974. He also threw 241 pitches in a game for the Angels in the mid-1970s. Ryan believed he averaged between 160-180 pitches per game in 1974. Washington Senators’ pitcher Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches in 1963 as he struck out 21 Orioles in a 16-inning game. Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a complete game win by the Red Sox over the Reds in Game 4 of the 1975 World Series.

In 1987, there were 106 performances where a pitcher threw at least 140 pitches in a Major League game. Eight years later in 1995, that total was only 36. The protocol by the late 1990s was 120 pitches as the limit to keep pitchers healthy.

If you think these numbers by starting professional pitchers were high years ago in pro baseball, the Japanese really push the envelope when it comes to high pitch counts.

In a remarkable story by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently, he discussed Japan’s national high school baseball tournament which takes place twice a year. Recently the spring championship took place, and a young 16-year-old boy named Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 pitches over 46 innings in five days.

He started the tournament with a 94 mph fastball and threw 232 pitches over 13 innings in his first contest. Then he threw 159, 138, 134 and 109 pitches in succeeding games. In his last game, not surprisingly, he could barely muster enough arm strength to throw fastballs 80 mph as he gave up nine runs during an eventual 17-1 drubbing.

According to Passan, the ultimate compliment for a baseball player in Japan is to be called Kaibutsu which translates to “Monster” and symbolizes an athlete who performs at a remarkable level during the national tournament.

Passan also pointed out that 15 years ago at the Japanese national high school tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over 17 innings during a quarterfinal game. Then he pitched the next day in relief. And a day later, Matsuzaka fired a no-hitter in the finals.

He pitched eight seasons in Japan pro baseball dominating hitters and signed with the Red Sox for $103 million for six years. In his fifth year at 30 years old, he blew out his elbow which required Tommy John surgery. And he wasn’t able to make the Cleveland Indians as the fifth starter out of spring training.

Tracking High Pitch Counts
For years, Boyd Nation has produced a web site called www.boydsworld.com which features college baseball ratings and analysis.

One of his categories is the Pitch Count Watch in NCAA Division I.

This season, he uncovered 13 outings by pitchers that resulted in 140 pitches or more. Box scores either have actual pitch counts or the number of batters faced. So some of the counts are estimates that are extremely close.

The highest number this year was an estimated total of 183 by pitcher Josh Freeman of Alabama A&M when he threw 9 2/3 innings against Jackson St. on April 6. He faced 50 batters, walked 11, and had 4 strikeouts as he gave up 10 hits in the 5-4 loss to Jackson St.

No actual pitch count was listed in the box score of this game — only batters faced. But if Freeman threw an average of 4 pitches to each of the 50 batters, the count would be 200 pitches.

And it isn’t unreasonable to assume he hit that figure or higher with the number of walks he registered and strikeouts. Alabama A&M’s sports information department and baseball office were called to seek an actual pitch count for Freeman. But nobody called Collegiate Baseball back with Freeman’s pitch count total for this outing as of press time.

Late-Season Heroics
Last season saw two pitchers go far beyond what hurlers normally do.

RHP Taylor Sewitt of Manhattan College pitched 22 scoreless innings over three straight days at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament to guide the Jaspers to the league title. He struck out 20 batters, allowed 10 hits and won three games as he threw 296 total pitches. He began with a nine inning complete game, 1-0 victory over Fairfield on a Friday with 12 strikeouts. The next day, he came out of the bullpen and held Canisius scoreless in the final two innings of a 5-4, 10-inning walk-off win. Then on Sunday, he pitched 11 scoreless innings to lead Manhattan to a 3-2 win.

Mitch Crocker of Westmont College (CA) accomplished something that may never have been done in college baseball history as he recorded three wins over a 25-hour period. Those wins allowed Westmont to quality for the Golden State Athletic conference tournament for the first time in 15 years.

After losing the first of the four-game series to Vanguard, Westmont went on to win the next three in must win scenarios.

In game two, which was scheduled for seven innings, Crocker took the mound in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied at three. The righthander coaxed Van-guard’s Alec Rosales to ground out to end the threat. After Westmont scored three runs in the top of the eighth, Crocker returned to the mound and pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth to record the win.

The next day, Crocker was called in the seventh after the Warriors had given up five runs and fell behind, 9-8. With two outs and runners on the corners, Crocker struck out Adonis Tountas to end the rally. After Crocker pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, Westmont’s Tim Leary belted a 2-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put the Warriors back on top, 10-8. Crocker then retired the side in order in the top of the ninth to earn his second win. Upon returning to the dugout, Crocker told his coaches that he was ready to go back out in the second game of the doubleheader.

Crocker then went out and pitched a complete game, giving the Warriors an 8-2 win. He gave up one run in the second and third innings, but kept the Lions scoreless in the final six innings. In those three games over 25 hours, Crocker threw 173 pitches in 12 2/3 innings of work. He allowed two runs on 10 hits, struck out nine and walked three.

Where Baseball Is Today

Derek Johnson, pitching coordinator with the Chicago Cubs, weighed in on pitch counts in baseball.

“The reality is that pitch counts are where baseball is today,” said Johnson.

“Years ago when I played, starting pitchers would have much higher pitch totals than today. And common sense was the tool that determined when a pitcher was pulled or not. If pitches were getting up in the zone or you saw velocity drops, fewer strikes and a change in mechanics, then pitchers were getting tired and were usually taken out.

“On the professional level, we are talking about protecting pitchers who are being paid millions of dollars. We always have to be vigilant on whether we need to have pitchers back off on innings or games or continue pitching. And every pitcher is different.

“There are variables within the pitch count as well. One is how stressful innings are and how quickly he got to 100 pitches and the history that a pitcher may have. Was his arm abused in travel ball at a young age or at another level? At the end of the day, the game needs a subjective measure on whether a pitcher will break down. But that’s not the easiest factor to determine.”

Johnson was asked if pitchers are being babied too much now.

“There is a fine line to walk between coddling a pitcher and abusing him. You obviously don’t want to be overprotective. But you don’t want to injure him either. The bottom line is that each pitcher is different, and you must treat them accordingly.”

Unique Approach In 2012
While more teams than ever are monitoring pitch counts on the high school, college and professional levels with precision, and utilizing closers late in games, the University of Arizona won the 2012 national championship by extending their starting pitchers deep into games.

Wildcat starters finished with 16 complete games, including eight over its final 19 contests. It was the most complete games in a single season at the school in the last 23 years.

To put this in perspective, Arizona had the same amount of complete games as the entire Southeastern Conference made up of 12 teams.

In 36 games, their top three starters worked into the seven inning at a minimum.

Kurt Heyer ultimately threw 2,212 total pitches while Konner Wade fired 1,851 pitches and James Farris 1,612.

And interestingly, there were no pitching injuries last season.

“From a pitch count perspective, our magical number is 125 pitches,” said Wildcat pitching coach Shaun Cole.

“Once a pitcher hits that number, we really watch him carefully. We usually make a decision at that number. But we also watch pitchers throughout the game and monitor their velocity. If it drops or command starts being an issue, we might pull them.

“There were plenty of times last season when we went out to visit Kurt Heyer at the 125-pitch mark, and he still had a lot more in the tank. The most we ever allowed Kurt to go to was 135 pitches.

“But other guys might not be able to go past the fourth inning without showing problems.

“Every pitcher is different when it comes to how far they can go in games.”

Cole said that the time of year must also be taken into account.

“If it is early in the season, why would any coach press a pitcher to go 125 or 130 pitches? But late in the year if a pitcher is conditioned well and his velocity hasn’t dropped, you probably should consider letting that pitcher go a little longer depending on the game.

“But at the same time, nobody really knows what the exact number should be in a pitch count. From a coaching standpoint, you never want to hurt a young man’s arm. Staying consistent with what works well helps tremendously. Knowing what a pitcher can handle is important as well.”

Cole feels pitchers are babied too much today.

“In Nolan Ryan’s day, there was a mentality of finishing games by starting pitchers. Pitchers today, and probably a lot of position players, simply don’t throw enough.

“I feel catchers should throw more than they normally do. Catchers can strengthen their arms by throwing to second but with the second baseman standing behind the bag on the outfield grass.

“When the middle infielder comes back to the bag, the throw by the catcher is much easier. Throwing more often with position players is an area that is not addressed much.”

Youth Baseball Limits
With the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries to youth baseball pitches, the American Sports Medicine Institute feels important steps must be taken to minimize such injuries.

ASMI suggests watching and responding to signs of fatigue (such as decreased ball velocity, decreased accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching or increased time between pitches).

If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing. For specific pitch count limits in the different youth age groups, go to www.asmi.org  

To obtain this issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

The Woodlands’ Eastman Builds Powerhouse

The Woodlands’ Eastman Builds Powerhouse

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
(April 19, 2013 Edition)

THE WOODLANDS, Tex. — One of most progressive and successful high school coaches in the nation is Ron Eastman of The Woodlands (Tex.).

He has led the Highlanders to a superb 317-88 record over the last 13 years.

This season, The Woodlands is 21-2 and were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball after rolling to an 18-0 record.

Eastman led the Highlanders to the 2006 national high school title, as determined by Collegiate Baseball, after posting a 38-1 record and finishing with 31 consecutive wins to capture the 5A Texas state championship.

The Woodlands has won two Texas state 5A championships in 2000 and 2006 under the guidance of Eastman. Previously he was the head coach at Lamar High School for eight years. In 21 years as a head coach, his record is 450-188. Few coaches in the nation have utilized the mental game as Eastman has to give his teams an edge.

“There is a lot of failure in baseball,” said Eastman.

“Anybody who knows anything about the game is well aware of that. There will be adversity during games. When it hits the fan, your players must have something to go to. So we try to impress upon our players that life is like that as well. It’s not always going to be what we call ‘green lights.’ Not everything will go well for you. There will be adversity in life, whether it is with the family, your job, or children.

“We try to help them develop some mental toughness tools which allow our kids to deal with adversity.”

Sports psychologist Brian Cain has worked with The Woodlands to incorporate his techniques to make them more mentally tough.

“Brian has taught us many little things that work. We also have utilized the work of Ken Ravizza who wrote Heads Up Baseball (along with Tom Hanson). Just like we try to get them to be better hitters, pitchers, base runners and defensive players, we try to be stronger in the mental aspects of the game.”

Eastman was asked what specifically his teams do to be mentally tougher.

“Our ultimate goal and one of our mantras is ‘Win The Pitch.’ We try to focus on what you can control. You have total command over your effort and attitude. We work very hard on effort in practice. We set a very fast tempo in our practices just like a lot of major colleges have gone to the last few years.

“We really focus on players’ attitudes. We have the letter W (initial for Woodlands) in a Superman symbol on the locker room door. When the young men show up at the ball park and go into the locker room, they are taking their school clothes off and leaving their academics, girlfriends and families there and totally focusing on baseball. We want them to understand when they are putting on their practice or game uniform, it is all about baseball for the next 2-2 ½ hours.

“Then when they go back to the locker room, they leave baseball back on the diamond and focus on the present moment. From the outset, we have our players strive to have a proper mental focus in practice.

“We have utilized concentration grids prior to practice that Brian introduced to us. It allows players have sharper focus in practice. This grid has a series of numbers on paper. You must sequence them in numerical order and find those numbers as quickly as possible. It is a way of focusing your brain and mind on those numbers so that you are able to concentrate.

“In today’s world, the attention span of kids is extremely short because of everything they do. We have to work in short bursts with them. And that’s the way baseball is designed as well. You have a pitch, rest, then have another pitch and so on. The concentration grids help us focus before practice. We don’t use them every day. But we do use them regularly for all our players.”

To read the entire in-depth story about Ron Eastman and The Woodlands’ baseball program, purchase the April 19 edition of Collegiate Baseball by clicking here.

Concussions Can Cause Major Problems

Concussions Can Cause Major Problems

Figone Concussion GraphicBy AL FIGONE, Ph.D &
Special To Collegiate Baseball
(April 19, 2013 Edition)

FOLSOM, Calif. — Concussions in football have been well documented.

But what about baseball? Ryan Freel, who spent six of his eight Big League seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, was not the first Major Leaguer to take his own life.

But, the circumstances surrounding the former Tallahassee Junior College standout’s suicide were. Freel, 36, was found in his Jacksonville, Fla. residence on December 22, 2012 after an apparent suicide.

 “I don’t know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars,” stated Freel’s former wife Christie Moore Freel.

“I know a lot of people say they weren’t shocked by it, but I really was. I really thought at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did. I’m very hopeful. We certainly believe there is some sort of connection (to concussions).”

Freel’s step-father Clark Vargas believed Freel sustained at least 10 concussions in baseball and his ex-wife shared the story of a Venezuelan winter league game in which Freel had to be hospitalized for a concussion after running through a fence.

After one of his last concussions in MLB, Freel reported he stayed in bed for five days, was unable to read very much, and driving made him sick and dizzy. The family has donated his brain to the Boston University Center for the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathology (CTE).

An undersized player by MLB standards, Freel was a player who played the game with a hell-bent for leather attitude.

He was a super utility player who stole 143 bases, and hit .269 in eight MLB seasons.

“I don’t have the size and the power, but have the heart. Anybody can have that,” he’d tell youngsters who aspired to become MLB players.

Baltimore’s Brian Roberts knew something was wrong after sliding head first into first base against the Red Sox in May 2011. There was no collision with a knee or other body parts of the defensive player covering first. The two-time All-Star got up, and his head began pounding and his vision was blurred.

Roberts looked across the diamond and did not recognize any signs from the third base coach.

“I think that was the scariest part,” Roberts said. “I knew something was wrong.”

He had suffered a concussion from the whiplash effect of the slide. And it was the second in about seven months.

Two days later, he was placed on the disabled list and did not return to the Orioles until June 13, 2012 which was more than year after the injury. He had also concussed himself in September 2010, just five games before the end of the season.

To read more about this in-depth story on concussions, purchase the April 19, 2013 edition. To obtain this issue or start a subscription, click here.

Hitting Discipline Paying Off For College Teams

Hitting Discipline Paying Off For College Teams

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

INDIANAPOLIS — How are college teams adapting to the BBCOR specification bats after using them for 2 ½ seasons?

While they have substantially less pop than the old BESR certified bats, many successful teams have utilized the technique of being highly disciplined during at-bats and going deep into counts.

This has resulted in an incredible number of walks for these teams which represent base runners and ultimately runs.

When more hitter’s pitches are demanded by batters, pitchers tend to get tired quicker and more mistakes take place which are then hit by these successful teams hard. Ultimately, run production has a chance to be outstanding with this system in place.

The first NCAA Division I baseball statistics of the season were released through games of March 3. Collegiate Baseball looked at the top 23 teams that had the most walks in the nation by their hitters.

And amazingly, 10 of 23 had one or no losses this season.

Here is a rundown on those 10 teams which includes their national ranking, record and number of walks):

  • 1. Central Arkansas (11-1, 104 walks).
  • 2. Mercer (11-1, 89 walks).
  • T-5. Vanderbilt (12-1, 73 walks).
  • T-5 Florida St. (10-0, 73 walks).
  • 8. Virginia (12-0, 70 walks).
  • 10. Oregon St. (12-0, 67 walks).
  • 14. North Carolina (10-0, 63 walks).
  • 16. Mississippi St. (15-0, 62 walks).
  • T-18. Georgia Tech. (11-1, 60 walks).
  • 23. North Carolina St. (10-1, 57 walks).

If you look at the top run producing teams in NCAA Division I through March 3, the top five in the nation are from the above list.

  • T-1. Virginia (119 runs in 12 games).
  • T-1. Central Arkansas (119 runs in 12 games).
  • 3. Mercer (117 runs in 12 games).
  • 4. Vanderbilt (116 runs in 13 games).
  • 5. Georgia Tech. (115 runs in 12 games).

The other five teams listed which have high walk numbers and had one or no losses all have superb run production numbers. They include:

  • Mississippi St. (eighth in the USA with 108 runs over 15 games).
  • North Carolina St. (13th with 99 runs in 11 games).
  • North Carolina (16th with 97 runs over 10 games).
  • Florida St. (18th with 93 runs in 10 games).
  • Oregon St. (32nd with 81 runs in 12 games).

Gary Ward, considered the Godfather of discipline when it comes to training hitters in this technique, practiced these concepts with his Oklahoma State teams for 19 years during the 1978-1996 seasons. Nbody taught this technique better than him. His teams walked more than any school in NCAA history which allowed the on-base percentage to shoot through the roof. And it was no coincidence that his offenses led all NCAA Division I teams in run production six times.

In the Jan. 25, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball, Ward went into detail about the importance of being disciplined in hitting.

Through discipline, the walk has played a vital role in scoring runs. “The walk has always been important,” said Ward. “It isn’t about taking pitches. A lot of people get confused about going out and taking a bunch of pitches. The reality is that you must value being disciplined at the plate.”

“The great majority of athletes, if you can teach them their zone within the strike zone, can have enough athleticism and bat speed to cover that with some ability.

“So we have always worked very hard at reducing the zone down and used terms like ‘shorten the look’ or ‘center the ball more.’ “

Through his 19 years at Oklahoma State, Cowboy hitters had a superb walk-strikeout ratio with 9,001 walks and 6,916 strikeouts.

For More On This Story: Read the rest of the story, including Gary Ward’s analysis on this trend, in the March 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball newspaper. Individual copies can be purchased for $3 each. Please see Subscriptions for more information about ordering.

Gonzalez Suffers Broken Neck & Returns

Gonzalez Suffers Broken Neck & Returns

Andy GonzalezBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

PHILADELPHIA — Andy Gonzalez of Misericordia University is lucky to be alive. On Feb. 27, 2012, he was driving back to school from Philadelphia when another driver ran a red light and crashed into the passenger side of his vehicle.

Andy started through the intersection after his light turned green, and he never saw the other car coming as the impact spun his vehicle around several times until it came to rest near a sidewalk.

The 5-foot-9, 210-pound catcher didn’t realize it, but he suffered a broken neck which normally kills people or causes total paralysis. His C-2 vertebra, which is even with his ears, was fractured in the violent collision. In fact, the common name for this type of broken neck is a “Hangman’s Fracture.”

“After the impact, I was dazed and not sure what happened,” said Gonzalez. “There is currently a lawsuit pending against the other driver. I believe the operator of the other car tried to slip through the intersection as my light turned green. I started driving into the intersection as the first car ready to move out. It was early in the morning about 6:50 a.m., and there really weren’t that many cars on the road. I was in the middle of the intersection when he hit me.”

Gonzalez said he was conscious through the entire situation until he was put in the ambulance. “Once paramedics placed me on a stretcher in the ambulance, I passed out. I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital.”

Gonzalez said that he felt some pain in his neck initially after the accident. But it wasn’t unbearable pain.

“I had no idea how seriously hurt I was. I attempted to get out of the car, but the way the car was crushed in from the passenger side, the center console pinned one of my legs in. And my foot was stuck. I was able to get my foot and leg out, and they weren’t mangled up. While I was trying to get free, a witness who saw the accident came over and told me to stop moving and stay there.

“The witness called 911. Once the ambulance arrived in about 10 minutes, paramedics carefully took me out of the car and protected my neck as they put me on a stretcher.

“I was taken to Hammond Hospital in Philadelphia. When I regained consciousness, my clothes had already been cut off, and I was about to be put in a tube which I believe was CAT scan machine to take a closer look at my neck. As I woke up, I felt intense pain in my neck which at this point had a neck brace on it. The nurse told me I was at the hospital and had been in a car accident. She told me to stay still because they were running some scans on the neck area.

“I told her that my neck hurt pretty bad, and she assured me that after the tests were done that I would get some pain medicine. At about that time, my parents were contacted in the Long Island, N.Y. area. They had no idea I had been in a serious accident. They immediately drove to Philadelphia which is about three hours away.”

No Paralysis
Initially, he had some temporary loss of feeling in his feet. But Gonzalez could still move them. He was fortunate not to have any paralysis.

“I then was wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit, and about an hour later, a doctor came in and explained that I didn’t have any internal bleeding. But he said I had an unstable break in my C-2 vertebra. The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive and said it was rare for a person to break his C-2 vertebra and still be alive. The doctor said the unstable condition of the vertebra had to be taken care of as soon as possible and explained two options.

“The first was a neck fusion procedure while the second was wearing a halo brace which would keep my head immobile while the C-2 vertebra healed over a long period of time.

“He felt that I was young enough that the bone could heal by itself, and the halo brace was recommended by him. That’s when I had to figure everything out quickly. I told him that he was the expert with situations like this and gave him the go ahead to put the halo brace on. Then they brought me the paperwork, and I signed everything.

“As soon as the team of doctors was ready, I was wheeled in as they fitted me for a halo brace. It was a very quick turnaround. A hard, plastic vest is put over your chest and torso starting above your belly button area. Connected to the vest are four bars which go up along the side of your head. The bars connect into a metal circular brace that looks like a halo and goes around your head.

“That halo is then secured to your head with four screws which are drilled into your skull. There were two screws in the front and two in the back. That keeps your head from moving at all. I had the halo on for approximately 12 weeks.”

Gonzalez said that he didn’t realize all the small movements your head makes during the course of a day. “If something startled me and I attempted to turn as a natural reaction, I could feel the screws that were put in my skull, and it was a painful reminder not to move.”

Difficult To Sleep
Gonzalez was asked if he could sleep at night with this unwieldy halo brace now attached to his upper body.

“While I was in the hospital, I couldn’t move the main part of my body from the waist up. The only way I could move my upper body was by my lower body since the upper part was immobile. The hospital bed allowed the back part of the bed to go up and down. Sleeping was uncomfortable. And in the beginning, it was very painful to lie on the actual metal cage of the halo. I couldn’t lay on my head…only the bars. But this type of bed did help lower and raise my upper body.

“I didn’t sleep too much until I got used to it. I had to relearn how to sit up. It took me a few days to get out of bed and stand up. After a few days of getting out of bed and taking a few steps, my physical therapist helped me increase the distance as I walked the halls. That’s all I wanted to do at this time after a few days of only laying in bed. I had enough of that.”

Gonzalez had been an athlete his entire life, and he was asked if it was difficult to be immobile.

“It was very difficult. My lifestyle was so active through my life between baseball, working out and training, and now I was essentially immobile. It was rough emotionally and physically.”

Gonzalez was in the Intensive Care Unit for three days and subsequently moved to general care in the hospital for another eight days. Then he was released to go back home which presented another challenge for him.

“I wanted to walk out of the hospital because I had been lying in bed for so long. So they allowed me to use a walker even though I still wasn’t able to walk all that well. But I made it to our car.

“But getting in the car was a challenge even though it was an SUV. I had to wiggle my way in as I put the seat down and bend a little as I got in. It was an extremely tight fit, but I made it in. The three hour ride back to Long Island was awful. Every little bump was painful, and it was like torture.”

Gauntlet Set
Before he left to go home, Gonzalez was told by the specialist at the hospital that he would never play baseball again. At that moment, the memory of his 2011 season was a distant mirage as he played in 38 games, started 35, and was named second team All-Conference as a catcher.

“The doctor told me that this was a pretty serious break, and I would be able to walk. But as far as my competitive athletic career, that was a thing of the past. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to do those types of things any more. I listened to what he had to say. But I didn’t for one minute believe it. I refused to believe this. After I got home, I saw another specialist for a second opinion.

“He said pretty much the same thing and mentioned that I was a very lucky man to be alive. He said that one day I would probably be able to play catch with my own son. But as far as playing baseball, that is out of the question, and your career is over.”

After hearing the unsettling news from another specialist, he was depressed at first. But he knew deep inside that he would play baseball again. So he did everything he could to help his cause by searching the internet for products that might speed the recovery of his C-2 vertebra.

“I simply couldn’t do much while I was in the halo for 12 weeks and another 10 weeks in a typical neck brace. There was no way I could train since I was pretty much immobile. All I could do physically was walk around during this period. But what I did do was stay positive which was the most important thing.

“I truly believed I would get back out on the baseball field. I did my research and found vitamins, minerals, food and drinks that would help heal bones faster and make them stronger.”

Finishing His Degree
Gonzalez said that the doctor requested that he not go back to Misericordia University during the spring of 2012 after the accident so he could heal properly at home. He felt it would be extremely difficult to attend classes and get around with a halo brace on.

“He suggested with everything I had to go through, it might be wise to stay at home during the rest of the spring semester. But I was still on the baseball team, and this was supposed to be the final semester of my senior year. So I decided to go back on campus and finish my classes the normal way. And I finished my double major of computer science and mathematics and walked through to get my diploma last May.”

Gonzalez refused to allow his baseball career to end this way and told Coach Egbert that he was coming back in the fall of 2012 to play one final season for Misericordia.  He planned on taking Informa-tion Technology Organization Management as a graduate student in the quest to obtain his Master’s Degree.

“At the end of last season, Coach Egbert met with me and was probably very skeptical about me coming back. After all, I had a broken neck. He also realized that specialists had told me I would not be able to play baseball and other competitive sports again.

“Before the injury, I weighed about 210 pounds. But after inactivity for so long, my weight plummeted to 180 pounds as I lost about 30 pounds. My muscle mass had really gone down. I went home for the summer and couldn’t really do anything. Once I got the halo brace off after 12 weeks, then I had to deal with the regular neck brace for 10 additional weeks. With that type of neck brace, I could do light stationary bike riding.

“I also walk a lot which helped. In early August, I went to see the specialist for a checkup. An MRI of my neck was taken, and the specialist carefully looked at the images over and over again. Then he told me that he thought I would be able to play again because everything in the C-2 vertebra had healed well. So he wanted me to take everything slow and steady and cleared me for limited activity. My parents (Alison and Manny) were with me, and everybody had huge smiles on their faces.

“You can’t imagine the tough road I had to get back to this stage. And I wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of my parents, support of Coach Egbert and all the guys on the team. I realized at that moment that I could start preparing to be a baseball player again. Fall baseball practices were going to start in a month. And I hadn’t done anything with baseball for the previous seven months.

“It was one roadblock out of the way. But I realized I had more to come.”

Gonzalez said that the specialist wanted him to come back to the office in a few weeks to be cleared for full activity at the tail end of August.

“When I was given the first clearance, all I was allowed to do was very, very light weight training. Nothing overhead was allowed. I could run and jog and do cardio work. It was important to take it easy and not have anything bad happen. I went back to the doctor several weeks later, and he cleared me for full baseball activity. Then I started running every day and did as much lifting as I could to build up my strength. I tried to throw and hit, but it was out of the question because my neck was so stiff.

“Before the injury, I had taken baseball for granted. It was just a joy being out there throwing, hitting and being a catcher. I found out a year ago that all that can be taken away. As soon as I was cleared, I rededicated myself to the game I love. And every day, I would wake up and think about the days I couldn’t weight train, run or play baseball and could only be in bed with the halo brace on day after day for 12 weeks. It was an incredible motivator for me. All I wanted to do was work out, run, throw and hit. Once I was able to really do those things, I got after it.

“I was in the gym every day and on the track and baseball field as much as I could be. Just prior to the season, everybody went through the pre-season physical fitness test, and I graded out as the strongest guy on the team. I squatted three reps of 425 pounds. Then I bench pressed 295 with three reps. I also performed 14 pull-ups at a body weight of 215 pounds. I had gained all 30 pounds back, plus five more as well.”

Gonzalez said that after he was able to have more range of motion with his neck due to hours of physical therapy, then he was able to throw, hit and catch with more precision.

“I caught my first bullpen in mid-September in a practice situation, and it felt incredible. It was the greatest feeling in the world. And then I started throwing and hitting more. Now I am ready to play in 2013.

“It is amazing how far I have come when you look back on this journey from having a broken neck. In 2011, I was the starting catcher and helped our team win its first conference title. Then last year, all I could do was sit on the bench and cheer them on. I wouldn’t be here now without the support of my parents, coaches and all the guys on the team. They have all been wonderful. I will never forget my head coach traveling two hours to see me the day of the accident as he dropped everything he was doing. That meant a lot to me. From the time I was told I would never play baseball again to me telling Coach Egbert I would play again, he has been there checking up on me to make sure I was OK.

“Coach Egbert is an amazing man. I’m not sure how many head coaches out there would drop everything they were doing to go visit a player who was injured two hours away. He really cares about his players, and if something happens to them even off the field, he will be there for you.”

Amazing Young Man
Misericordia’s Egbert brushed off the notion that he was special for visiting Gonzalez in a hospital two hours away on a moment’s notice.

“It was the right thing to do, and I would like to think a number of other coaches would do the same thing,” said Egbert.

“Andy’s friend in Philadelphia called to inform me about the accident. She notified me that he was in the hospital and was in no condition to speak right away.

“That news really threw me for a loop. As a coach, you are shaken up. Andy had been in our program for four years, and I was very close to him. When you get those types of phone calls, it’s not easy to handle.

“The other difficult thing about that is relaying the information to the team. But with today’s technology, a lot of them were aware of what happened before we were able to get together later that day.

“I left for a day or two to visit him at the hospital. The assistant coaches ran practice. And it was just a process of keeping our players updated on what was going on. It was touch and go for the first few days. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. You spend a lot of time with these guys, and part of the job is watching them develop and mature and get out on their own. Visiting him after such a serious injury was the least I could do.”

Egbert marveled at the strength and resolve it took by Gonzalez to make it all the way back to playing baseball again with the odds stacked against him.

“It’s been a long, long journey. About 2/3rds of the way through the 2012 season, we had a Saturday home game in April, and Andy’s mom drove him to the game from Long Island to the field. We are in the outfield stretching for a conference doubleheader, and here comes Andy walking around the corner. The reaction was priceless. Everyone stopped and went over to see him and gave him a big hug. He was very inspirational to our team.

“I tell him to this day that even though he wasn’t able to play in 2012, he was a very big part of the team. Doctors told him he would never be able to play baseball again and was lucky to be alive.

“He refused to accept that and is back for his fifth year to get his Master’s. He made a lot of sacrifices physically, emotionally, mentally, academically and financially to do what he is doing. To me, it is a great story. He is healthy right now and ready to play.

“Andy is actually stronger than before the car accident. He did a phenomenal job of getting back to full strength. He wants to prove to everybody else that he can come back better than he was.

“Andy has been given a second chance in life. He has the same great work ethic in academics and baseball that he has always had. But he has a completely different perspective on life and doesn’t take anything for granted any more.”

Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Beware of Foul BallsBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — When a baseball fan is hit by a line drive, and a serious injury takes place, should he be allowed to sue?

Or does the disclaimer on the back of the ticket saying the holder assumes all risks associated with ball-related injuries absolve those who operate a stadium and team of future lawsuits?

The question has come into focus after Bud Rountree was hit by a line drive in the eye at a Boise (Idaho) Hawks baseball game in August of 2008.

The severe damage caused by the impact resulted in Rountree losing his eye.

His attorney filed a lawsuit against the stadium owners and the team in 2010 for negligence in state court. Several weeks ago, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.

It was a rare setback for stadium owners and teams concerning this issue.

For decades, the “Baseball Rule” of liability has been adopted for such situations as lawsuits have been turned away from courts because of the disclaimer on the back of tickets with those attending games knowing the potential danger of foul balls, thrown balls and bats flying into stands.

The back of Rountree’s ticket said: “The holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls.”

It didn’t matter in this case.

This ruling has reverberated throughout all of baseball.

If a jury rules in favor of Rountree’s lawsuit, all of baseball will be impacted, including college and high school games.

You might see more protective netting being put up or even have fans sign their tickets to show they know what the disclaimer on the back of their ticket says as they hand them to stadium personnel entering parks.

Another case took place in New Mexico when the parents of a 4-year-old child launched a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league team after their son was hit in the head by a long fly ball during pre-game batting practice.

The family was eating in the picnic area located just beyond the left field wall. Different courts in New Mexico have gone back and forth over whether the family should be given compensation for the head injury.

It should be noted that the Baseball Rule siding with teams and stadium owners has been adopted by courts in Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and other states which go against the recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling.

How Many Fans Are Hit?
While Collegiate Baseball knows of no source that tracks fan injuries from foul balls by Major League Baseball or the NCAA, Bob Gorman has done unscientific research for his blog Death At The Ballpark.

He kept a count of foul balls entering stands for 20 games during the 2010 season which amounted to 166 innings. He counted 405 fouls that went into the stands which was an average of 2.44 per inning.

The greatest number of fouls per inning was 5.4 over a 5-inning stretch. The lowest figure was eight during 8 ½ innings (.09 per inning).

He pointed out that the Detroit Free Press did a similar project for one game. During a Tigers’ contest at Comerica Park, they had a crew of 22 people spread throughout the park tracking balls that entered the stands (including fouls, homers, and balls tossed to fans from the field). Of the 46 fouls that game, 32 met the paper’s criteria of entering the stands.

Of these 32, 23 were from batted fouls. The average for this 8 ½ inning game was similar to what Gorman found in his research: 2.7 fouls per inning.

Of the thousands of professional, college and high school baseball games that are played each year, you can multiply that number by the number of innings played and then multiply that figure by 2.4 to get a realistic idea of how many balls are hit into stands each year.

And that figure is obviously in the thousands.

For More On This Story: Read more about injuries at the College World Series and other ballparks and who is liable. See the March 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. See Subscriptions for ordering information.

Golembo Mixes Baseball, Judo Skills

Golembo Mixes Baseball, Judo Skills

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

This story originally appeared in the April 5, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

ST. LOUIS. — Baseball players have always been considered superb athletes.

But rarely do you have one at the level of Max Golembo, freshman outfielder for Washington University in St. Louis, an NCAA Div. 3 school.

Not only is he a superb baseball player who was hitting .438 after six games for the Bears with an on-base percentage of .565, but he is one of the top judo fighters in the world at his weight.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Golembo’s goal is to represent the United States in the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. In the process, he may be the first college baseball player in history to compete at an Olympics in the sport of judo.

Golembo got his start as a baseball player at the age of three when his dad Clark had him try to hit balls off a tee in the back yard.

Through the years, he played on youth baseball teams and then on an elite travel team in Illinois called Top Tier. He ultimately played his high school baseball at Adlai Stevenson H.S. in Lincolnshire, Ill., where he hit .418 as a senior with 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored.

But that was only one part of his life.

Judo was another passion of his that he began learning at the tender age of four.

“My dad worked with Bob Berland who earned a silver medal during the Olympics years ago,” said Golembo. “He told my dad that if he had a boy, it was important to have him learn judo. So I began working at judo at the age of four and have been refining my skills ever since.”

Golembo entered his first judo tournament at the age of six and won the championship.

“It was such a great feeling to win that I wanted to keep at it, and judo became a bigger and bigger part of my life. When I was 8-9, I spent the entire summer going to judo camp every day from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. And then I would practice at night. I was able to travel across the country to national events. And I kept winning.

“At the age of 15, I won at the nationals. But I was humbled very quickly when I fought in the under 17 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. I really wasn’t ready for that level of competition and got killed by my first round opponent.”

Qualified For Junior Worlds
After working hard at his craft for the next two years and gaining more strength, he qualified for the U.S. judo team at the Junior Worlds in the under 20 age category.

“It was held in Agadir, Morocco at the end of October in 2010,” said Golembo.

 “I was a lot more prepared for this level of competition this time. I really picked up the training and worked every day before and after school. I ended up taking fifth place in the world as I won four matches and lost two. I beat the guy who destroyed me two years earlier. What made this finish so special was that I was the first American male to place in the top five in the Junior World competition in the prior 25 years. And it was the best moment of my life.”

Golembo lost a quarterfinal match to a Japanese athlete. That put him in the loser’s bracket, and he had to win a match to qualify for the bronze medal match.

“That match was extremely exciting. I tied it up with 10 seconds left and won in overtime. But I lost the bronze medal match to another Japanese athlete.”

While Golembo still has great passion for the sport of judo, there simply were not judo scholarships to be found at colleges. So he kept training in judo but began focusing more on baseball during the summer of his junior year in high school. And ultimately, the coaches at Washington University in St. Louis offered him a position on the team.

“I still work on judo. But there isn’t a club at Washington University. But I can train with a friend in St. Louis about 15 miles away which I do at 6 a.m. when I am able to. When I go home, I will train much harder in judo with my coach. It will be a strict regimen at that time.”

Golembo was asked to explain what judo training entails since most people involved in baseball have no idea how rigorous it is.

“When I am home, I get up in the morning and do weight training and then work with my coach on different grips, perfecting throws and making myself better in this discipline. I will typically run 2-3 miles but also do some spring workouts to increase my agility.

“It is a very structured program from some amazing coaches. I also have worked with an Olympic coach who was in Sydney, Australia at that Olympics and another coach who was on the German national team.

“When I have fought these coaches, they have kicked my rear end around in practice. But they have given me a template to train and achieve my goal of being in the Olympics. They know what it takes.”

Challenging Training
Golembo said his training schedule for judo was difficult in high school.

“I had to get up and train at 5 a.m. since classes started at 7 a.m.. But you have to do the work to get better.”

Golembo said that the top judo experts in the world are mostly from Europe and Asia. The Japanese always have incredible athletes who dominate the sport.

The more tournaments you participate in and do well, the higher your world ranking is.

“The ranking changes every year. The key year for me will be 2015. So I need to compete at key tournaments to be in a position to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. I not only have to be one of the elite athletes in judo at 178 pounds in the USA, but I also have to be one of the top 25 in the world.”

Golembo was asked if he has ever had friends or coaches who have offered to join him in a judo match.

“Recently on our baseball team at Washington, one of my good friends Chris Lowery, the third baseman on the team, challenged me to a match. He kept egging me on to wrestle him. Finally I had heard enough and said let’s do it now. So my teammates got in a circle, and we squared off. Chris is about 6-foot-2 and 215-pounds, and is a lot bigger than me. At first, I just messed around with him.

“Then I made a quick move, picked him up and threw him down to the ground. He got the wind knocked out of him and didn’t want any more of me. Nobody else on the team has challenged me since,” laughed Golembo.

“Another time in high school as a sophomore, an assistant baseball coach on the team couldn’t believe I was as talented in judo as he had heard. This coach was 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds. He kept telling me that he could take me down nearly every practice.

“One time, he doused me with water while he was working on the field. I didn’t appreciate that and said, ‘Let’s go right now.’ So he dropped the hose, and we squared off. I made a move, picked him up and threw down on the ground hard and had him in a very compromising position as he yelled for me to stop. I asked him if he was OK, and he was. But he never mentioned judo again after that point.”

Golembo said he has never utilized his judo skills to help friends out of sticky situations.

“I am not the type of person who looks for fights. The only exception is judo matches.”

Scheetz Travels Over 50,000 Miles

Scheetz Travels Over 50,000 Miles

Ryan Scheetz At Gorom Refugee Camp in Juba South SudanBy LOU PAVLOVICH
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

STORM LAKE, Iowa — Ryan Scheetz of Buena Vista University is one of the most prolific world travelers in college baseball history.

Since 2011, the talented first baseman for the Beavers has traveled over 50,000 miles across the globe to destinations such as Granada (Spain), Kathmandu (Nepal), Munich (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic), Uganda and the South Sudan (Africa).

If you travel around the world at the equator, the distance is approximately 24,900 miles. So Scheetz has traveled this distance twice in slightly over two years. In fact, he has gone on so many journeys to different lands that he had to receive close to $900 worth of immunization shots in total prior to these trips to stay away from potential infectious diseases, according to his mom Patricia.

One of his most memorable trips was to Nepal and was arranged through his work in the 212 Degree program which operates in Minneapolis, Minn. The trip to Nepal took place Dec. 30, 2011-Jan. 25, 2012, and he received three credits for going from a course called Leadership In Evangelism.

“For about three hours in the morning for two weeks, we would talk about leadership. Later in the day, we would go out into the city and do ministry and evangelism.

“For the other two weeks, we got to climb through the Himalayan Mountains. We went on a specific trek where we were attempting a climb to 16,000 feet. It was not Mt. Everest, but it was close to where Mt. Everest is.

“Because of the amount of snow on the ground, we didn’t get to go all the way up and stopped at about 9,000 feet. We were the first group in the past 11 years that wasn’t able to go all the way up to the top. Normally there isn’t any more than three feet of snow at the highest accumulations in January with the area we trekked.

“Unfortunately, there was eight feet of snow in places. So we turned around. But it became a blessing because we got to stay in one of the villages for another couple of days. We met a bunch of great people, and I stay in contact with several of them even today.”

Scheetz said the 2-week trek involved carrying heavy gear for temperatures that would dip below zero at night to day temperatures that would be in the 50s.

He recently came back from a trip to South Sudan which took place Jan. 12-20. Two years ago, he did an internship with a local non-profit ministry in Storm Lake, Iowa for about three months with the focus on Sudanese children.

He flew to Uganda with a friend after arranging to meet with a contact.

“It took us 23 hours to reach Uganda. Then it took another 5 ½ hours to reach northern Uganda. We arrived at our contact’s house and talked with him. He asked us what our main goal was. And we told him that we wanted to get to South Sudan to the refugee camp. And he encouraged us to go

“He told us that he had American friends who went back and forth every day from this area. I was a little nervous because everybody at my university told me that I shouldn’t go there because it’s too dangerous. So I was scared.

“The next morning, we took a 9 ½ hour bus ride to Juba, South Sudan. And I was terrified for a 30-minute period. About every five vehicles was a military truck filled with six to eight people standing in the back with AK-47 machine guns.

“I just prayed that everything would be alright. They were all over the place. You couldn’t walk five feet without seeing armed military people. Ad that was different for me. I was concerned being the only white person around. All the warnings I had received before we left weighed on me. These military people kept staring at me as we drove by. I couldn’t look up and make them think I was disrespecting them. I didn’t know their culture and how they would react if I looked at them. So I just looked downward but could still see with my peripheral vision.”

More On Amazing World Traveler: To read the complete article from the Feb. 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball, call our subscription department to purchase this edition or subscribe for a year.

228-Game Losing Streak Is Now Over

228-Game Losing Streak Is Now Over

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball
(From March 8, 2013 edition)

PASADENA, Calif. — Possibly the greatest losing streak in NCAA baseball history was put to rest several weeks ago when California Institute of Technology knocked off Pacifica, 9-7 in the Beavers’ second game of the year.

Caltech had not won a game against an NCAA team for 228 games which stretched over 10 years. The last time the Beavers won a contest was against Cal. St. Monterey Bay, 5-4 on Jan. 15, 2003. The NCAA statistics’ department is not aware of a longer losing streak in NCAA baseball history.

Caltech has one more gigantic hurdle to clear. The team has not won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball game in 24 years — a span of 463 games — heading into the 2013 season. The last conference win was against Whittier College in 1988.

Collegiate Baseball felt a more in-depth look at Caltech’s baseball program was in order because of the uniqueness of it and the massive obstacles players and coaches face. Caltech, 1-7 this season, is an NCAA Division III institution that only allows the elite of all scholars across the world to enroll.

The school is an absolute Mecca for scientific milestones, including the discovery of anti-matter, the nature of chemical bonds, the foundations of molecular biology, the birth of modern earthquake science, left brain/right brain discovery and the principles of modern aviation and jet flight. The total number of students at Caltech is usually around 3,000, and the school’s faculty and alumni have received wide recognition for achievements in science and engineering, including 32 Nobel Prizes.

The school is so prestigious that typically there are 3,500 applications for a few hundred open spots. Close to half of applicants score 800 on their math SAT scores (the highest score possible). And the admission’s staff at Caltech doesn’t automatically rubber stamp these kids. Usually more than half won’t get in. The median grade point average of high school kids who have been allowed to enroll at Caltech and play on the baseball team is 3.9, according to former Head Coach John D’Auria who retired at the end of last season after 30 years with the program. In a typical year, the baseball team will have anywhere from 14-16 players.

Current Head Coach Matthew Mark, in his first season with the Beavers after being hired last summer, previously served as the pitching coach for Allegheny College (PA). His entire 2013 squad is comprised of only 13 players. Two of his players never played high school varsity baseball. And one of those individuals had never even played the game of baseball prior to this season.

“I started with 11 kids in the fall and now have 13 now,” said Mark. “I am able to have a lot of 1-on-1 time with the kids. I think it has made me a better coach because it has allowed me to break down the skills precisely to these kids.

“The biggest thing is that it has allowed me to be incredibly imaginative on how to create situations that are game like for them. These kids are great at drills. But I want them to freestyle and learn the game through each other and through competition. It has opened my eyes in working with 13 guys and how you rotate them around to get their work in.

“One of my players never played baseball before by the name of Thomas Kwok. He is probably the fastest kid on our team. So we utilize him as an outfielder and play him a little deeper. He is an amazing kid. He asks questions all the time. He does nothing but get better. I also have another player who never played varsity high school baseball by the name of Will Dooris. I believe he hadn’t even played baseball since his sophomore or junior year in high school. He is a junior at Caltech now and previously played basketball for a year and ran track for a year at our school. Now we have him on the baseball team.”

At times over the years, the baseball program has utilized women to play baseball. During the 2002-2003 seasons, Kristen Zortman played for Caltech.

“She was a fabulous athlete who probably was tougher than most of the guys on the team,” said D’Auria. “Kristen later went on to throw the javelin on the track team and did extremely well. Today, she is an engineer.”

Last season, a lady by the name of Kayla McCue played for the Beavers. Her grandfather played baseball and ran track in Cuba. D’Auria said that Caltech’s philosophy is to overload their undergraduates with much more than they would ever have at another institution.

“They may be getting 150 percent of the material. If the kids retain 30 percent, they are way ahead of other schools. They have homework sessions that are unbelievable marathons. I had kids finish homework at 11 in the morning after being up all night long. Then the kids, absolutely exhausted, fall asleep and don’t wake up until after dinner and miss practice. If you go to any of the eight undergraduate houses, you will find half of them with the lights on and kids awake all night long every day of the week.”

Study Marathons
Mark was amazed at the study habits of his players as well.

“Caltech is an extremely difficult academic school,” said Mark. “But at the same time, it is very rewarding. Our baseball players have nights where they do project sets and stay up through the night out of necessity. I want my players to figure out how to organize and structure their days and nights so they get proper rest. These kids are becoming adults and need to learn how to organize their time.

“During the spring, we have practice from 4-6 p.m. And on weekends, it is 10 a.m.-1 p.m when we don’t play games. That helps them plan their schedule. Every one of the 13 players we have is dedicated. They don’t come late. And they stay after practice to improve themselves.”

But the intense academic workload is always there for his players.

“I had a starter recently who arrived at a game and looked absolutely exhausted and beat. I found out that he didn’t finish one of his homework sets that was due in an hour. I immediately sent him home. Even though the kids work on trying to organize their time, there will be days when this is difficult.

“And I question whether kids get enough sleep. But when they arrive on the baseball field, I preach that this is an escape. They can forget problems they are facing. I want them to enjoy the game of baseball while they are here.”

With poor sleep habits comes poor nutrition. Mark is trying to change that as well.

“Our associate AD and another administrator are both certified nutritionists,” said Mark. “I think I have changed my meals between doubleheaders every time thanks to their advice. I try to control what is going into my players’ bodies especially prior to games.

“Before we leave on a bus for a road trip, I talk to them about what they should be eating the evening before the trip as well as breakfasts and lunches. It’s a process. I guarantee you that they are still eating bad stuff. But I don’t see them drinking pop or sugary drinks. Instead, they drink a lot of water. Hopefully they are learning a lot of good information about nutrition.”

On NCAA Probation

It may be hard to believe, but Caltech was publicly reprimanded by the NCAA in mid-July and given three years of probation, a post-season ban, and recruiting limitations after 12 sports used 30 players that were not technically eligible to play over the last few years.

The student-athletes, which included a few baseball players, were ineligible in large part because of Caltech’s unique academic policy that allows students to “shop” for courses during a three-week period at the beginning of each quarter before finalizing their class schedules.

During this brief period of time, students were not technically students in those classes. So many of the students were not considered full-time students and were ineligible if their teams were playing at the time. Caltech self reported the findings after Betsy Mitchell discovered the violations shortly after she was named Caltech’s athletics director last summer.

Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times wrote a column about this ridiculous punishment by the NCAA last summer.

“You know what stinks? This Pasadena brain boutique is essentially being punished because its classes are so difficult,” said Plaschke. “One of the country’s losingest athletic programs has chosen to vacate wins it doesn’t have, shut down the recruiting it doesn’t do and be ineligible for championships it never wins.

“It’s hard to blame them (students). When deciding between, ‘Markov Chains, Discrete Stochastic Processes and Applications’ and ‘Computational Fluid Dynamics,’ shouldn’t one be allowed to sleep on it? One wrong choice could send your term spinning into a maze of all-nighters,” added Plaschke.

Mark said he found out about the NCAA violations the night after he flew back to Pennsylvania after interviewing for the head coaching position at Caltech last summer.

“It definitely is a hurdle to overcome. As a result, our baseball team couldn’t have an alumni game this season. I can’t go out and recruit players until July 11, 2013. The only exception is if I work a prospect camp where another school pays me to come out and work with kids. I will be doing that early on next summer. We can play in NCAA post-season play in 2014, but not this season if we qualify. The sanctions against baseball are pretty much done after this season.”

Recruiting Problems
Mark said that at Allegheny College, he had upwards of 4,000-6,000 names in a database which he could tap into for potential baseball recruits.

“Those kids might have a general interest or serious interest in the program,” said Mark. “I might have seen kids over the summer or worked at a camp with them. I brought that philosophy here to Caltech, although the list must be scaled down considerably because of the high academics here. When I am allowed to recruit after July 11, I will get out and spread the word about Caltech baseball in a grass roots effort.

“I will let admissions narrow my choices down. I want kids who have played with winning programs and kids who want to make a change and be a part of turning the program around here.

“I realize Caltech is incredibly difficult to get into. But this school is incredibly prestigious to attend and interests so many kids. It draws in people from areas I have never even heard of. I can still watch videos that are sent to me and call different sources for potential players. I know there are always kids out there who want to get recruited.”

Mark was asked if he taps into the database of students Caltech has to see if any athletes are available.

“When I first started last summer, I e-mailed anyone who showed interest in the program. As soon as I got anything back from them, I would call them on a weekly schedule. Working events like the Stanford and Harvard camp and different various academic showcases where I can generate some more numbers will help. And I can contact those kids. That’s the big thing. Just showing my face out there will help. Breaking the streak has helped, and we have had some amazing press off that. No doubt about it.”

Caltech has the unique distinction of playing on a baseball field that is over a 2-story parking garage.

During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Beavers were without their home field to make way for a parking garage which covered more than half of the field. The dimensions are approximately the size of a soccer field dropped in right field with one of the goals along the first base line and the other in centerfield.

The top of the garage was built to be 18 inches below the eventual soil level when the field was re-made with drainage, irrigation, soil and new turf which matched the height of the rest of the playing surface. Despite all the hurdles for coaches and players, the game of baseball still enriches their lives.

“Baseball is not a recreation class. My guys put in a ton of extra effort when they aren’t busy with problem sets. They give me 100 percent at practices. I feel that people think baseball at Caltech is taken lightly. And that is not the case.”