Chances are, the college coach your son will play ball for someday doesn't even know your son owns a glove.
"You can't just sit home and tell yourself coaches will beat down your door," says Jim Zerilla, a Pennsylvania-based recruiting consultant. "Families must take an aggressive approach to recruiting and college selection to avoid heartbreak and financial hardship."
In order for your son to play at any level, he must first have the grades. Then, his athletic tools and skills must match the needs of a particular baseball program.
"Finding a college is a research project," says Mickey White, former general manager of the Florida-based Baseball Academy and now assistant general manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball club. "You must gather information, as well as supply it to others. But the most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that your son must go to a college where he can play."
During his freshman and sophomore years he should concentrate on academics, during the summers attend "select" camps at colleges where he might want to go to school, and play lots of summer and fall ball.
At the beginning of his junior year, he should develop a list of schools -- from junior colleges to top-30 Division I programs. As a parent, you should start thinking about what level of ball your son can play at and how often you want to see him play.
As you begin your search, you may discover that not only are you trying to put together a very complex puzzle, but you may not even be sure where all the pieces are.&
For example, just how do you market your son's baseball talents? Who might really be interested in him? How many -- if any -- athletic "exemptions" (special academic consideration for athletes) do prospective colleges allow? Where does your son want to play? What will determine where he chooses to play?
And will anyone help you with the search? Maybe not. You and your son may just have to do it all by yourselves.
For starters, his high school coach may be too busy to worry about your son's college baseball career. On the other hand, he might be a great help in steering your son to the best program for him. He might take the initiative to send introductory letters to coaches notifying them of your son's interest in playing college ball and his legitimacy as a prospect. He might also provide spring, summer, and fall game schedules and post-season stats. Over the course of a several-month recruiting process, he might spend hours on the telephone with coaches promoting your son. Some coaches may even spend still more hours helping your family weigh this decision.
Early on in the process you'll want to assess the reputations of college baseball programs that are of interest. Eventually you'll want to contact coaches and make visits to check out baseball facilities; the coaching staff; the quality of the program; the off-season conditioning and training facilities; the number of fall, intersquad, exhibition, and regular-season games (which could be as many as 100); and to check out community support.
Explore the possibility of signing early, in November of your son's senior year. For some families, this can be a good decision, because it could spare your son the frustration of a prolonged search and allow him to enjoy a less anxious senior year waiting to see who wants him. If an early signing is an option, college visits should begin during the fall or winter of your son's junior year.
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