Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Dear prospective athlete,
The idea of playing college athletics is starting to come up this summer with parents and players. I hear parents telling their kids they are good enough to play at the next level. Having had the opportunity to play baseball at the college level as a student/athlete is a significant jump for anyone and I want to share my experiences as an average “walk-on” District II baseball player.
Year after year, I come across parents telling their kids they have the talent to go to the next level, despite not having personal experience playing college athletics. I never tell a player that he can’t play at the next level. I tell him the aspects of his game he needs to work on, how hard it will be to get to college and stay there.
Playing baseball at the college level, whether its Division I or Division III, requires an exceptional work ethic, strong individual discipline, outstanding physical attributes, and an understanding of the competition. Making the team is the first step; staying on the team becomes extremely difficult since everyone on the team is trying to take your place in the lineup, even your best friend.
When I was 18 years old, going to senior year at Goddard, I asked my father, Gilbert, if he thought I could play college baseball and his response was “No.” I pushed further and asked why. He stated, “You aren’t fast enough, don’t throw hard enough, don’t hit for power and honestly, I don’t think you work hard enough.” After cursing his name until 2 a.m., I realized he was right and went to work to improve my game.
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In college, everyone is All-District and All-State. In my senior year, I made second-team All-District in 4A. It was the only year I played on varsity. This was after being cut as a freshman, and playing junior varsity as a sophomore and junior. You were second-team All-District in 3A New Mexico?
After my senior year, I was not recruited by anybody. As a freshman, I attended New Mexico State University. I thought trying out there, but the qualifications were you had to run a 60-yard dash under seven seconds.
My buddy, Mike CueIlar Jr., told me that he thought I had a chance to play in college and that ENMU was having a tryout. He told me he would drive me. I decided to go tryout at Eastern New Mexico University for coach Phil Clabaugh. It was an open tryout in July. I went as a pitcher and had to pitch one inning against other guys trying out, as well. I was throwing 84 mph on my fastball, and my changeup was 72 mph.
I had a bases-loaded jam and pitched out of it. Coach Clabaugh called me over after practice and told me he liked my pitching and told me he would like for me to walk-on in fall. No money, just a walk-on. The significant thing was this was the last tryout for the year, meaning in the fall, if I had showed up, he would not have let me try out.
I don’t want to sound caustic, but here is a bit of a reality check. Let me introduce you to my teammate Derrick Kennedy, third-leading hitter in the city of San Antonio, Texas, which happens to have more 5A high schools than all of New Mexico. Meet my other teammate Tyler Hayes, a four-year varsity starter at a high school of 4,000 students in Houston.
Do you grasp what I am saying? Our college coach used to tell us stories about scouting the 5A baseball State Championship game in Albuquerque and both starters were throwing 81-84 mph. He then attended a 3A Texas regional game and the starters were throwing 91 mph and 93 mph.
When I met my new teammates at Eastern New Mexico, I realized very quickly they worked just as hard, if not harder than me. I’m not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings or burst your hopes and dreams, but you have to understand the level of competition you will face with your teammates and opponents.
My first time getting into the batter’s box, I was nervous and scared. My knees were shaking during our first intra-squad practice.
“I was a little nervous,” Alvarado, said. “It was a good feeling to know that other players had the same goals as you did. They wanted to be the best they could be, either they were going to leave you behind or you were going with them. It wasn’t until I got my first base hit, then I knew I belonged.”
What does a day in the life of a college athlete look like? Let me take you through my summer for four years, five days a week to try and keep up with my teammates and opponents:
7 a.m.: Wake up, light breakfast.
8-10 a.m.: Hit in the batting cages. Either my dad would throw batting practicing, feed the JUGS pitching machine, or I would hit off a tee if he couldn’t help that day.
11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Go to the gym and lift, then do agility, speed and conditioning workouts.
1-5 p.m.: Help around the house and earn my keep, as my parents would say.
On their 9 acres of property, I mixed and poured concrete, shoveled and spread/raked over 100 tons of gravel, dug dozens of fence-post holes, trimmed trees, dug up septic tanks, nailed fence railings/boards, and other assorted landscaping and remodeling jobs.
5-7 p.m.: I would throw each day and long toss three days a week. My father couldn’t throw that far anymore and I would take a bucket and long toss and he would mark the farthest throw. One summer, I went from 201 feet to 252 feet as my longest throw. My dad would hit me six buckets of flyballs (there are about 40 baseballs in the bucket), minimum. A whole bucket right at me, a bucket to my left, to my right, over my shoulder, in the sun, and line drives and grounders.
My routine was five days a week minimum, from the end of May to the start of August. This is not to say that I didn’t relax or visit friends but my priorities were set and baseball always came first.
So a coach has given you a scholarship or a chance to walk on and make the team. What does it take to make the team? Just at Eastern New Mexico University-Portales, there were 50-60 guys trying to make the travel squad of 28. Here was our daily routine:
5:45 a.m.: Be at the arena for morning workouts. Early is on time, on time is late, and if you are late, don’t bother showing up because either you are cut or have 100 poles as punishment. (Running from foul to foul pole, over and back is 1.)
6-7:30 a.m.: Conditioning/speed/agility, and the rule was never to eat anything after 8 p.m. the night before because it was coming up.
Your first class usually starts at 9 a.m. so you have a choice. You either 1. take a nap, shower, then go to class, or 2. shower, go to breakfast, then class. The nap won the debate most of the time.
9 a.m.-12 p.m.: You are in class, taking notes, reading, completing exams, and doing your best to make the most of the educational opportunity you have been given. Our team prided itself in having one of the highest team grade-point averages at ENMU. If our coach heard from anyone that his baseball players were not doing their academic work – poles or hit the highway.
12-1 p.m.: You have time to eat lunch and change.
2 p.m.: Practice starts at 2 p.m., which means you are warmed up and have played catch. I arrived at the field between 1:20 and 1:30 p.m. to begin my pre-practice routine.
2-6 p.m.: You are practicing. You are competing in inter-squad games, defensive drills, relays, hitting practicing, situational hitting/defense, etc. There is very little, if any, downtime in that four-hour period.
After that, you head to dinner and then back to your room to recuperate and do homework. You are still taking 12-16 credit hours just like every other student. The really dedicated guys would head to the gym after dinner. I usually did not have the energy to go to the gym. I would study, read up on an assignment, or work on the many term papers and essays I had to complete.
You will essentially be working 12-16 hour days, six days a week. You will practice Monday through Saturday in the fall, August through October. The NCAA wasn’t as strict about mandatory days off back then. NCAA restrictions meant that our schedule wouldn’t slow down until November, but you are still working hard on your own.
Every year there are five to six guys trying to take your job, and every year, you have to earn it back. There are no guarantees based on what you did last year. I have seen full-ride scholarship players quit or forcefully get sent packing. I won’t discuss the spring when you make the team, practice, play 56 games and attend class. That is a different experience altogether, especially in a conference where the average drive to games was between four to eight hours.
Hard work can overcome many variables. I went from a 5-foot-10, 135-pound senior who was only second-team All-District, to playing in 124 NCAA Division II baseball games, but this took an incredible amount of work.
Parents, if your son/daughter works out irregularly and you are constantly making excuses why they didn’t make a practice or didn’t do their designated training, skipped their weight lifting and spend more time playing video games like “Fortnite” or watching “Tik Tok” videos than working out — then don’t waste your time or theirs talking about them playing in college.
I made the team as a utility player and bullpen catcher in my freshman year. I had 40 at-bats. Be versatile. In my sophomore year, I hit .280, and after that year, coach Clabaugh gave me scholarship money. In my junior year, I hit in the one-hole, two-spot or the nine-hole. Coach thought the one- and the nine-hitters were interchangeable.
In my senior year, I was a leadoff hitter, and I played left field. When I finished my career, I was 10th in career walks (60+), my batting average was .256, with three homers and I had 84 hits total. As a senior, I scored 26 runs, had 29 hits with 29 walks, and 19 RBIs.
Seek out a trusted unbiased opinion about your son or daughter’s playing skills. After my initial discussion with my father about my playing abilities, he and I continued to work hard on my baseball skills, but he still wasn’t confident that I could play college baseball. My father had been a very good high school baseball player in El Paso back in the 1960s, but he never played at the collegiate level.
He and my mom sought out a professional opinion and sent me to Wenztville, Missouri for one summer to play for Ron Hunt, a 12-year major league veteran. Six weeks later, my father and mother returned to pick me up and my father had a short discussion with Mr. Hunt. Ron Hunt laid it on the line, “Your boy is a good baseball player, but he’s not D1.”
From there, my father and I set goals for baseball and took DI off the board. The summer going into my sophomore year of college, I attended an open tryout at ENMU and was given the opportunity to walk on and try to make the team.
Follow your dreams
Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Even if you haven’t been working your hardest recently, it’s not too late to change. I did at 18 years of age. But make no mistakes, the road to college athletics is paved with hard work, let downs, long days, sore muscles, and takes serious perseverance to succeed.
You will need help to get there. I was lucky enough to have parents who saw my dream and helped me chase it down (my mom also chased many baseballs in batting practice). Every high school athlete dreams of Division I. However, don’t forget there is Division II, Division III, NAIA, and junior college/community college.
When it comes to senior high school baseball players in the United States, only 7% will play in college, if you add up all levels. In fact, only 2% will set foot on a DI field. No matter the collegiate level, everyone gets reality-checked when arriving and seeing the talent that really exists out there.
Some get discouraged, leave, and give dozens of excuses for why it didn’t work out. Others rise to the challenge. If playing in college is truly your dream, rise to the challenge. Set goals, create your workout plan, keep your grades up, and keep your options open.
We all can’t be DI. On days you don’t feel like working, remind yourself there are hundreds of thousands of players across the nation, and now the world, trying to take your roster spot. The scariest part is, hard work improves your chances of success, but nothing is ever guaranteed.
I’m glad I walked on and played college baseball. If baseball wasn’t a part of my life, I would have joined the army. Playing baseball and coaching have been the foundations of my life. I hope to impact other young kids. I want every kid to fulfill their dreams of playing the game they love at the next level.
I will leave with some wise words my college coach gave me when I asked what my chances were to make the team at ENMU. He stated, “You have the same chance as everyone else. And 15 years from now you can tell people one of three things, ‘I could have played college baseball’, ‘I should have played college baseball,’ or ‘I played college baseball.’ The choice is up to you.”
Gilbert R. Alvarado
Head Baseball Coach
Goddard High School