The Iowa State Baseball Club is stretching its legs this month as it prepares for the 2017 spring season.
Starting a few weeks ago, the players of last year’s team began the search for new talent in the upcoming season. And so far, it's gone well.
“I've been happy with the numbers that we have this fall, and it's directly resulted in a more competitive league,” said Matt Odland, president and head coach of the team.
The higher level of competition corresponds directly with the consistency of each team’s talent base. With 107 players this year — 20 more than the average fall league signups of years past — the coaches have dispersed the skill level among the eight fall league teams.
With such a large number of sign-ups, the structure of how the players will be chosen for the spring tryout has changed slightly from previous years.
A total of 28 games will be played until Oct. 13, when each of the eight teams will be seeded based on their performance in the month-long fall league. The following weekend, a tournament will be held to conclude the fall league games.
Once the tournament is over, a final tryout will be held to determine who makes the final cut. Those tryouts usually consist of three to five players from each team, leaving anywhere from 25 to 35 players fighting for a spot on the spring roster.
For the spring team tryout, more skill-set evaluations will be made, including base-running times, pitching and throwing. The coaches begin to take a more systematic and methodical approach to the analysis of each player.
In the last portion of the tryout, a highly competitive scrimmage will be held on Cap Timm Field in Ames to assess each player’s real game ability. But sometimes the skill of a player isn’t the determining factor to guarantee them a spot on the team.
As Odland pointed out, the club has seven total seniors this year. The coaches are looking for younger talent to help replenish the roster when they graduate. But it isn’t always as easy as it may seem to draft young students.
“The larger the team, the harder it is to keep the guys focused, especially being a club team," Odland said. "Without the promise of scholarships, it’s hard to keep everybody fully invested."
In the past, the club team has had a total roster of nearly 30 members. Scheduling conflicts, waning interest levels and a lack of playing time kept many teammates away from consistent participation.
The club baseball team’s success is determined largely by player participation. With many younger players, it can be a challenge to maintain their attention. If a freshman is chosen to take the spot of a graduating senior, he must know that his playing time is going to suffer during the season. And respect plays a major part in that.
Because there are no dedicated staff members, younger players on the team are taking direction from coaches who are, at the most, three years older than them. It can be hard to follow leadership from someone who is normally seen as an equal. So the coaches and older players are stepping up.
“I’ve found that if you invest time and help into these [players], especially when they are freshmen, they will respect you," said Justin Kelm, vice president and assistant coach. "It’s bigger than the game of baseball, it’s about your family of teammates and the thrill of the game."