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Baseball Always In Season

Jan. 8, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

ATLANTA — Here’s a thought to keep you warm as you see your breath and watch snow fall: There’s a little more than a month to go until the Yellow Jackets begin their 2010 baseball season — the opener is Feb. 19 against Missouri State at Russ Chandler Stadium.

The season begins a 56-game stretch over the ensuing 18 weeks, leading up to the ACC Tournament, and then — ideally — the NCAA Tournament and ultimately the College World Series.

For assistant coaches Tom Kinkelaar and Bryan Prince, the opening of the regular season will be something of a relief from the end of a different pressure-filled season that recently ended for them, the recruiting season.

There is no off season for Kinkelaar and Prince. When baseball season ends, they go from reviewing scouting reports of opposing hitters and pitchers to viewing and preparing scouting reports on the nation’s top high school players, then driving to multiple showcase games, visiting parents, making countless follow-up phone calls, and finally, watching and waiting for signed letters of intent to come in from those who want to attend Georgia Tech.

“Bryan and I go out a lot. We see a lot of kids,” said Kinkelaar, who will begin his sixth season in the Tech baseball program and second as Tech’s pitching coach. “We try to get more Georgia kids than anybody, but we’ll go all over the place, different showcases and so forth.”

Prince,a four-year letter winner at Tech who graduated in 2005, was drafted in the 10th round by Cincinnati in 2001 (he was in the Reds’ minor league system until 2004). He is beginning his third season as hitting coach at Tech.

“Our goal is to go out and recruit the best players for the positions that we need,” he said. “Obviously, being the best players, they get an opportunity to go to basically to choose what school they want to go to. This year we were just very lucky to go out and target a few guys that we like and it just so happened they wanted to go to Georgia Tech.”

Tech netted 18 top recruits, including eight of the top 200 national recruits according to Perfect Game. Among the biggest prizes are DeAndre Smelter, a righ-handed pitcher from Macon, the fifth-ranked player in the country, and Marietta product Chevez Clarke (OF), who is ranked 17th.

Tech also is very high on catcher Alex Lavisky from Cleveland, Ohio (No. 119, No. 4 in Ohio) and left-hander Daniel Palka, who was rated No. 94 overall and No. 2 in South Carolina, among others.

“I’ve told people that potentially on paper (this recruiting class) is going to be one of the best,” said head coach Danny Hall. “You still have to get them here, which, for us, is always a trick, with the pro draft, but on paper, I think it would rival just about any of the classes that we’ve had in the past.”

That’s a good thing, considering Tech, in Hall’s words, “needed everything.’

It’s a tough enough job battling every school in the nation and is made tougher by the Major Leagues, which offer the enticing promise of paychecks.

“People don’t realize that in baseball, we have to recruit twice,” said Kinkelaar. “You have to recruit against other colleges, then we get them to commit and you feel good at that point in time. Then, when the college draft comes around in June, we have to recruit them again because they get drafted. Now we have to try to present our case, why should they go to college instead of sign right now.”

That case often comes down to dreams vs. reality.

“Sooner or later somebody is going to tell you you can’t play anymore,” said Hall. “What you try to sell him on is that someone can take baseball away from you, they can’t take your college education away from you. Their education is going to give them a great insurance policy.

“We also try to sell them on the fact that we can develop you better than professional baseball. Our track record is pretty doggone good developing baseball talent.”

That track record includes the likes of former Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and former pitching great Kevin Brown, who was influential in Tech landing Smelter (Brown’s son played on the same high school team).

“It’s great advertising when you turn the TV on, there’s a Major League game, and you find guys who once played at Georgia Tech,” said Prince. “Basically it sells itself.”

There also is the long arm of countless Tech alumni still around the game, like James Beavers (pitcher 1973-75), and Mike Fowler (1986 and ’87). Beavers, manages the East Cobb Yankees and last year had third baseman Chase Butler (No. 19 prospect in Georgia, #180 in the nation), who committed to Tech, while Fowler, second-team All-ACC in 1987 and a former Atlanta Braves minor league player, was Palka’s high school coach and helped steer him toward The Flats, when he changed his mind about attending Clemson.

“That’s what recruiting is,” said Kinkelaar. “You build up networks, you build up relationships. You get to know the high school coaches. You get to know all these summer organizations. Naturally East Cobb is very strong in baseball, and that’s in our back yard. So that’s definitely a plus for us.

“People will give you a heads-up,” he continued. “It’s all about networking and building relationships.”

Prince pointed out that often the kids themselves will work in the school’s favor.

“Whenever you start getting commitments from as many players as we did, then other great players that know these players that are friends with them, they start coming on board as well,” he said. “As it started moving along and we started getting commitments, it started to get really exciting.”

Things don’t always work out, setting up a potentially awkward situation when a recruit is across the field in the opposing dugout. But Prince insists there are no hard feelings.

“We see it every year, kids we spend a lot of time with, go to another school in the ACC or another school that we play against,” he said. “I just say hello to them, and wish them the best of luck there. As long as they’re going to go to school somewhere, and they commit to a school to get an education, it’s very important.”

Besides, there’s no time to think about what might have been. The start of a new recruiting season is right around the corner.

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