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Changeups and Screwballs: A Southpaw’s Perspective for 8/24/11

Apologies for those of you looking for this article yesterday.  At the middle school where I teach we had to teach the new 6th graders how to use and open their lockers, as well as distribute laptops to each individual student.  If that sounds like sitting in hell with a puffy coat on, it’s because it is.  Straight miserable.  Thankfully it is done and over with and I now have time this morning to write.  Here it goes.

–       I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to play baseball in front of 30,000 plus fans…at the age of 12.  Watching those kids in the LLWS is truly inspiring.  If you are to buy into what C.J. Wilson had to say earlier this season, pitching in Williamsport is better than throwing a game in Oakland.

–       On the other side of things in Williamsport, is anyone else bothered by how many breaking pitches are being thrown?  And did you see the utterly shat on ball that Jake Fromm hit last night?  WOW.

–       Nice to see Adrian Gonzalez finally leave the yard again.  80+ at-bats without a bomb probably had fantasy owners worried.  Don’t sweat it.  That was merely the calm before the storm.

–       In Astros news, Wandy Rodriguez has been claimed off waivers by the Rockies, but no trade has been finalized yet.  After acquiring Barmes this off-season, it appears that Houston and Denver are becoming comfy with each other.  I hope the ‘Stros bring back more talented prospects to help the rebuilding push.

–       Seth Smith for president, anybody?  Dude hit another jack last night giving him an August slash of .296/.387/.685 to go along with 7 HR’s and 3 SB’s.  Get him while the getting’s good friends.

–       Is Picasso painting the NL MVP picture?  That race is a mess.  My personal vote goes to Ryan Braun, if I am voting today.  However, if the D-Backs end up winning their division, I find it hard not to go with Justin Upton.

–       When will parents begin to realize that they should never give a game ball to their kids at the game?  Seriously.  Wait until afterwards.  Although in the defense of the children, it has been hysterical to watch them throw so many balls back this year.

–       Way to go fat kid!  Prince is the first to 100 RBI this year.  I love watching that big ‘ol fat kid swing a baseball bat.

–       And speaking of fat kids, Big Fat Bartolo Colon might have hit a wall.  He is strong for 3-4 innings, but then begins to lose velo…and too much of it to be successful.  It was great while is lasted.

Golden Sombrero: Cole Garner

Top 2: Cole Garner struck out swinging against Jordan Zimmerman

Top 5: Garner struck out swinging against Zimmerman

Top 7: Garner struck out swinging against Ryan Mattheus

Top 9: Garner struck out swinging against Drew Storen

Final Line: 0-for-4, 4 K

Notes: I’ll be honest: I had no idea who Cole Garner was prior to his sombrero on Sunday.  In his six at-bats for the Rockies this season, Garner has fanned six times. I’m impressed, but for the wrong reasons.

Total 2011 Sombreros: 69

Golden Sombrero: Jordan Schafer

Bottom 1: Jordan Schafer called out strikes against Ubaldo Jimenez

Bottom 3: Schafer struck out swinging against Jimenez

Bottom 5: Schafer struck out swinging against Jimenez

Bottom 7: Schafer struck out swinging against Rafael Betancourt

Final Line: 0-for-4, 4 K

Notes: And once again another sombrero from a leadoff hitter. This is getting ridiculous.  Also, if you have some free time, be sure to do a google search for ‘Jordan Schafer tattoos.’ Dude loves his ink.

Total 2011 Sombreros: 61

How Division III Players Become Draft Prospects

This year thirteen players were selected from Division III institutes, which is fairly typical of most drafts.  The highest D3 player selected was Ben Hughes of St. Olaf, who was taken by the Rockies in the 10th round (their fifth pitcher selected).  The lowest was Ken Wiser, another pitcher, of Linfield who was selected by the Rangers in the 50th round.

Division III baseball and athletics in general are fundamentally different than either Division I or II, and not even on the same wavelength as NAIA or NJCAA athletics.  The difference likely begins with the nature of the institutions themselves.  Whereas D1 and D2 universities tend to be on the larger side, some D3 schools enroll less than 1,000 students.  Committing such a large percentage of the budget to a full D1 athletics program would grossly misinterpret the needs of most of these student bodies and therefore relegates these institutions to a lesser financial commitment.

While that is seen largely as a disadvantage to most Neanderthalic morons, student-athletes at D3 schools are also typically provided tremendous educations capable of sending their graduates to fulfilling and unique careers in and out of athletics.  That’s typically the draw, and many of these students receive very large scholarships.  While they are not technically deemed athletic scholarships, many financial aid packages are distributed based on likely contributions to campus life.  Athletics is included in these contributions.

Typically, however, players recruited by D3 schools are of the late-blooming type and/or have zero interest in professional athletics or have never seriously considered it a possibility.  Instead these players tend to recognize that they are good, love the game, and want a quality undergraduate education.  For many of these athletes, baseball has never once been the most important thing in their lives and likely never will be.  That in no way makes them lesser baseball players, however.  Many of these players are high achievers in all walks of life and refuse to half-ass anything.  Recent All-American selection Mike Nodzenski fits this profile well.  Robbie Unsell comes to mind too.  Robbie is currently in vet school in London and was a tremendous D3 baseball player breaking numerous school records and picking up an All-Region selection as well.  He also majored in one of the toughest departments in school and received tremendous grades in the process.

So then how does a guy like Jordan Zimmerman go from a D3 school to the 1st round, or a guy like Billy Wagner go from D3 to the HOF?  Well, most importantly, it takes a scout willing to take a chance.  Most D3 players are not draft prospects, so results tend to be completely meaningless in player evaluation.  It also takes a terrific coaching staff to ensure that players are developing properly despite tremendous academic workloads and likely other interests.  Perhaps most important is what the player does in the summer.  Selection to a top league like the Valley or Northwoods can greatly boost a player’s resume.  It unfortunately can also shatter it.  In Hughes’ case, it boosted his draft standing considerably.  He was an all-star last summer with the Duluth Mustangs of the Northwoods.

D3 baseball is different.  That’s beyond debate, but every single year a collection of players are selected from tiny schools in unusual corners of the United States to begin professional careers on the baseball field.  What likely also is beyond debate is that whenever these players’ careers end, however, is that they will have some very interesting second careers ahead of them after their days at the yard come to a close.  With that in mind, these players are not unlike the thousands of other D3 athletes who compete every season.  Hopefully as we settle into our second year writing here at the Sombrero, you’ve enjoyed reading what a handful of Division III players have written over the last year or so.

Golden Sombrero: Juan Nicasio

Bottom 2: Juan Nicasio struck out swinging against Danny Duffy

Bottom 4: Nicasio struck out swinging against Duffy

Bottom 6: Nicasio struck out on a foul tip against Nathan Adcock

Bottom 7: Nicasio struck out swinging against Adcock

Final Line: 0-for-4, 4 K

Notes: Nicasio’s golden sombrero on Friday night was the third by a pitcher this year — all of which have come in a start lasting 8+ innings.  In his win over the Royals, the rookie right-hander hurled 8 shutout frames, allowed three hits, walked two and fanned four.  As promising as his career on the bump may be, the outlook isn’t as bright for Nicasio at the dish.  In his 13 at-bats this season, he’s struck out nine times.  He’s also mixed in two doubles, which can surely be attributed to luck.

Total 2011 Sombreros: 59