These are some excerpts from interviews conducted starting in mid-April and ending toward mid-May.
You can access the complete interviews, and many more, via WillCountyBaseball.org homepage.
Andy Satunas Lockport
“When you have a really high level player the high school coach serves a purpose. We help teach them the game of baseball. We help teach them to become responsible student athletes. We help them become better people by reinforcing the values their parents developed at home. Sometimes there are opportunities that I cannot provide them. If they’re that high level of a player they need to go out and spend more time playing at certain places.”
“On the flipside if the young man is more of a low end collegiate player. He may be a Juco, a Division III, or an NAIA guy. There’s a whole lot that I can do as his high school coach to help him get to that next level. And some of those things might be things that the travel programs can’t do.”
Brandon DuBois Beecher
“I’ve run into some issues where some underclassmen have played for their travel ball teams rather than play for the high school. I’ve talked to the coach at H-F as well. He’s said there’s issues with them and travel teams, and guys going to play travel ball rather than playing for their high school. I hope this isn’t a new phenomenon that stays around for a long time.
“I understand during the summer getting looked at. You want to get your name out there, and travel teams go all over the place. That’s good, but at the same time we don’t want to take away from our high school program. Especially here, I have 11 guys on varsity right now and 10 guys in the JV program. So we’re paper thin.”
Paul Babcock Lincoln-Way East
“I’m afraid that players do think they’ll get a lot more exposure. If you look at it, college coaches will have more time to see these kids play in summer tournaments. That does make sense that they’re going to see them in the summer.
“But I’m afraid what the kids don’t understand that it’s too much about me-ball. There’s not enough practice going on. There’s not enough playing the game the correct way. So, if you have a good game well maybe you get a little attention. But you’re not going to survive in a college environment with their expectations unless you’re successful on a daily basis. And I think the only way you’re going to be successful on a daily basis is if you’re playing the right way every game.
“That’s one of my problems with these exposure camps and things that pop up all over the place. People are charging an inordinate amount of money and these kids are going to them. And they’re not competing. They’re just throwing balls or they’re hitting balls or they’re fielding ground balls. But it’s not under any pressure. There’s not a runner running. There’s not somebody that they have to throw out. They’re just measuring how hard they throw. They’re not seeing if the batter is making contact. There’s so many different variables that I just disagree with, and I don’t think people are getting an accurate picture of how these athletes really perform during the games.
“What we’re seeing more than anything else is a lack of baseball IQ. And it seems to take a little bit longer to get that out of them – to show them this is the proper way to do it. And I think there’s more resistance than there ever has been before. Before they used to get it right away. They’d go hard for you right away. Now it seems like it takes a little bit longer for it to seep in, and for them to understand that this is the right way.”
Jerry Cougill – Reed-Custer
“Well, I don’t know. The kids who play baseball here know how important baseball is. They also love the game. I will say this, and I told our kids this. Baseball is a tough sport to love. And it is a tough sport for kids, nowadays, to love because of all the negativity that’s associated with the game. It is such a difficult game to play. Of course, we don’t always play on the best of facilities. We play in lousy, crappy weather. And a lot of kids would rather take another route. They would rather go play another sport. They would rather play one of the Friday night lights sports. Or they would rather play video games, get a job, or whatever. So our jobs as high school baseball coaches have never been more difficult for those reasons.
“The travel ball situation is a problem. I would really love for the Illinois High School Association to loosen some of the restrictions on high school coaches. We can’t do very much with our players during the winter months. Therefore players who can’t afford to play travel baseball, or have a private hitting instructor, or pitching instructor – they kind of get lost in the shuffle a little bit. Whereas the other kids they will go play. Their parents can pay the money for the private instruction and those kinds of things. And as a result I think you’re seeing a little bit of the influence of high school baseball being lost because of that.”
WCB.org: How do you manage your team with summer and travel teams? Coaches around the area deal with those issues differently. How do you deal with kids playing summer baseball?
Coach Cougill: “I don’t want you to think I’m giving travel ball a totally bad name. Travel ball is the main vehicle now for kids getting scholarships. It’s so much easier for a college coach to go see a travel ball tournament where he can see a team that has 6 or 8 or even more college prospects on one team. And so if he goes and sees two teams play there may be a dozen kids who they want to see, or at least a handful of kids that they’re interested in following. So the travel ball situation is good for kids as far as getting exposure just by its very nature. And that can’t be matched by the high school programs.
“With regard to what we do with our kids during the summer, we not only have travel programs to work around. We also have basketball and football to work around. Fortunately, here at Reed-Custer our football, basketball, and baseball programs work hand in glove. We work very closely together. All three coaches support each other’s programs. I’ve gone to football and basketball games and rooted for kids in all three sports, and those coaches do likewise.
“In the summer months I will have kids on two nights a week and three mornings a week where we will go to the weight room and we’ll have onfield practice. Then we’ll play two nights a week, and the kids will go to their travel ball teams on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Basketball will take them two nights a week, and some of those kids will go to shootouts on some weekends. Fortunately, for us, football lets us take the kids during the month of June, and we’re done in June. And then the football program takes them over in July. That’s how we work together in all three sports.”
Jeff Petrovic – Minooka
WCB.org: One of the more interesting issues facing high school coaches is the influence of summer leagues and travel teams. Do you have specific ways you balance your players’ time between high school and travel baseball? And how many of your players play on travel team?
Coach Petrovic: “All of them. The deal with summer baseball is that it’s kind of a double-edged sword. In that, there’s so many teams out there that there’s obviously a place for everybody. And with 11 or 12 kids on a team everybody plays all the time and everybody gets a lot of at-bats. That’s great, but also people need to realize that a lot of those summer travel teams feed into every school district. So now, you might be one of 11 people on your travel team, but there’s seven travel teams that are feeding into a school district. There’s kids coming from all over. So, sometimes kids in the summer kind of get a false sense of where they fit into the big picture.
“Summer coaches do a great job of getting kids’ names out there. I think that’s it’s really become a big recruiting tool. You know, college coaches are playing right now. I have a great relationship with Illinois State. We sent several players down there over the last couple of years. Their assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Mike Staloway was at one of our games the other day. It’s tough. They got in at midnight from New Orleans the night before, and he showed up at one of our games at 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday.
“The kids get to be seen in the summer. And then our phone rings and a college coach will say, ‘Hey, we’re seeing this kid in summer baseball. You see him for 40 games every year. What’s your take on him?’
“So, it’s great that they contact us. I mean most of the college coaches get in contact with the high school coaches right away and kind of get our take on the kids. And that’s good. Because we spend a lot of time with the kids. Sometimes they see them in one game or one showcase and they have to evaluate them quickly. Where we get to see them over the course of their high school careers. Hayden Laczynski, who is a sophomore shortstop for me this year, he came up as a freshman and played the full season. I’ll have coached him for 160 games before he leaves here. So, it’s easier for high school coaches to evaluate these players.
WCB.org: Do you think that kids get the wrong idea about summer ball? Maybe they think the only way they can get the attention of pro scouts is by performing well in summer leagues when actually it’s their high school coaches who can really help them get recruited by college coaches more directly.
Coach Petrovic: “I’ll preface it by saying this. These summer programs do a tremendous job. All these summer travel teams are great for kids. We tell our kids to go out there and get as many at-bats as they possibly can. We’d like to kind of limit our pitchers if they throw a lot of innings for us. It’s hard to roll right into summer and continue to throw that many innings.
“But there is no doubt these summer coaches do fantastic jobs. Just like every high school coach I know – they all do fantastic jobs. You can’t fault anybody for the way they run their programs whether it be summer or high school.
“My view is this – if you’re good enough you’re going to be found. We had Mike Foltynewicz in 2010. He’s a pitcher for the Braves. And it didn’t matter if he went here or Beecher or somewhere in the desert. They’re going to find that kid. Great players get found. Whether it’s for college or a pro team. The really good baseball players are going to get snatched up.
“Sometimes it’s those other kids you have to work for a little bit harder -the kids that really want to continue playing that need a push in the right direction. We make a lot phone calls here to try to reach out to see which colleges need a kid at a particular position. Do they need a left-handed pitcher? You just try to build those relationships. As coaches we work really hard to put kids in the right spot to be successful because we might be calling on that college again later. You don’t want to ever send a kid somewhere where you’re setting him up for failure.
“In my 12 years we’ve sent at least 60 kids to go on and play college baseball. That’s great because these kids love the game. It is a big part of our responsibility. But I also really like the kid that comes in and cares about Minooka baseball.
“I think sometimes that kids have these ideas that they’re only here to get to the next level. They’re only in summer travel baseball to get to the next level. I love the kid that plays every day because he loves to play baseball. Because he wants to help Minooka baseball win, to help his travel teams win. Those kids are not necessarily worried about where their particular experience will put them in the future. Those seem to be the kids who are really successful – the ones who play because they love the game and kind of let things fall where they may.”