Student-run baseball club teams play for the love of the game, even in the World Series

Originally posted: May 13, 2018

PITTSBURG, Kan. – For the first time, several local high school graduates are representing Pittsburg State when the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Division II World Series returns to Jaycee Memorial Ball Field, May 18-22. With their Regional Championship win, the Pittsburg State Club Baseball Team makes its first appearance in the World Series. But the team’s president said they are playing because they love the game.

“Everyone down here loves baseball and so many guys grow up learning the right way to play and respect the game, and I think a lot of our success can be attributed to that,” said Nathan Grimaldi of the PSU Gorillas club. “No matter the age, I hope that what we’re doing can inspire players of all ages to play the game because you love it. Baseball shouldn’t be about scholarship money or even (high school) state titles; it should be about playing for the love of the greatest game ever made.”

Eight teams from around the country compete in the five-day, double elimination tournament. The championship game is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m.

Real world experience

These teams arrive representing their school, but an NCBA official explained that these college students are on their own, and their success is determined as much by what they do off the diamond, as on it.

“Everything is being done through the love of the game,” said Eric Curitore, NCBA D2 Director of Baseball Operations. “These guys differ from NCAA athletes as literally nothing is handed to them. They’re completely on their own – which the majority of the time dictates their success, as a team can have all the talent in the world but if they’re running inefficiently, it won’t matter.”

“I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned from my experience of being a manager/administrator of this club,”Grimaldi said. “I’m beginning med school next year and some of the things I’ve learned about myself and about being a leader will continue to help me for years to come. Not only has it made me perfect my time management and organizational skills, but I’ve had to go out of my comfort zone and talk to so many different people as an advocate for this program.”

Curitore said for the students who choose to be officers, it’s a real world, crash course in running a business – they are 100% self-managed and self-funded. While some teams have non-student coaches, the students themselves do the recruiting, tryouts, run practices, order uniforms, plan travel, schedule fields and umpires, and raise funds. As an example, multiple teams participating turned to Fundrazr and other online fundraising sites in order to be able to pay their travel expenses to Pittsburg.

“If you’re an officer you have more on your plate as you’re in charge of handling all the logistics of the team – so they’re way more involved in that sense, but not nearly as much (time involvement) as the typical NCAA athlete,” Curitore said. “These kids are paying money out of their own pocket to help offset expenses throughout the year as everything from a logistics standpoint falls back on them. Factor in these kids have full-time course loads and also have to balance out school and what, it’s a very demanding position to be in.”

“As president, I get the benefit of some experiences more than others, but from me down to the new guys, we all fundraise and manage budget decisions together, and I think that will be good for all of us going forward into the real world,” Grimaldi said.

Less time commitment

For students who are simply players, there isn’t near the time demand of intercollegiate sports for conditioning or practices. Curitore said the time commitment is less since most teams only practice once or twice a week, and only play games every other weekend or so.

“If you’re a club athlete, you understand that you’re not a NCAA athlete but understand club sports is still a very serious opportunity,” Curitore said. “Some of these kids could have very easily played NCAA somewhere, but perhaps didn’t want that commitment of playing NCAA or perhaps wanted to go to a specific school for other reasons outside of playing NCAA, and they knew they could still continue playing through club sports.”

“Many of us did play at the collegiate level (for a while), whether that was NCAA or Junior College, and we love club baseball so much because we aren’t playing for scholarship money and it’s not part of a business,” Grimaldi said. “We are literally paying to play this game because we love it. It reminds me a lot of travel ball as a kid, just playing the game for fun with some of your best friends.”

But this brings up another challenge for the student managers – who gets the playing time?

“Not only do we have to decide between which of our friends get to play, but sometimes you have to make the decision whether you play yourself,” Grimaldi said. “That can be hard at times, but I think the experience has helped so many of us grow and mature as adults.”

Grimaldi said the experience has given him an appreciation for the high school coaches in the area and how the successes of those programs have prepared the players on the PSU club team to have continuing success.

“We’re really blessed in this area as so many of the local high school coaches are so great. We have a roster littered with local guys from Colgan, Frontenac, and Girard to name a few. I can be sure, as a manager, that all of these guys will be prepared for any situation thrown at them because I know they’ve been through it with the excellent high school coaching in the area. As a product of Coach Watt’s program (at Colgan) I may be a little biased, but I know with full confidence every player we take out of his system will be fully prepared to play at the next level. The same goes for many of the local programs around here like Frontenac with Coach Sullivan, and others.”

More about club sports

The NCBA’s umbrella company, CollClubSports also oversees club football, club softball and club basketball, and other various sports. More than 300 colleges are involved in club baseball alone.

“The beauty of club sports is it’s all variable,” Curitore said. “Some teams take it very seriously – practice as much as they can, fundraise a ton etc., (and) it shows on the field. Some teams just enjoy playing and do the bare minimum to get by, (and) that also shows on the field. The team dictates a lot of their success without even playing sometimes. Club Sports is just as rewarding given its kids literally doing it for the love of the game, exhausting their personal time and resources to make it work.”

Of the 135 teams from 43 states, the NCBA Division II is down to eight teams. For seven of them, it is their first appearance in the World Series. Longwood University qualified for the World Series in 2011. While a few individuals are flying, the Longwood team is renting a charter bus to bring to Pittsburg.

“The school has been a huge help with this but without the donations from all our supporters it would not be possible,” said Longwood Team Officer William Russell. “Our alumni are very excited to see the club have further success after them, but for us it’s strictly business to try and bring home some hardware.”

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