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

By Crawford County 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

Round one will begin at Jaycee Ballpark on Friday, May 18, with Game 1 at 10 a.m., matching South Dakota State with San Diego State. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are traveling more than 500 miles from Brookings, South Dakota after winning the Northern Plains Region. South Dakota State beat Toledo 8-1, Wisconsin 1-0, and Toledo again, 4-2. The San Diego State Aztecs are traveling more than 1,500 miles from San Diego, California after winning the Pacific Region. San Diego State beat Cal State Northridge 5-2, and then beat San Jose State back-to-back, 17-4 and 11-5.

Game 2 on Friday is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m., matching Pittsburg State University with Siena College, both of whom took the long way to the World Series. The Pitt State Gorillas won the Great American Legion and are the only World Series qualifying team to lose in the first round and face elimination throughout the remainder of their regional. Pitt State lost to Ohio State 1-3, stayed alive by beating Xavier 9-8, got revenge on Ohio State with a 10-7 win, and then beat Truman State in back-to-back games, 14-3 and 6-5. The Gorillas club roster includes high school graduates from Colgan, Frontenac, Girard, Independence, and Webb City. The Siena Saints are traveling more than 1,300 miles from Albany, New York after winning the New England Region. Siena beat SUNY Oneonta 8-6, lost to SUNY Binghamton 5-15, stayed alive by beating Fordham 7-5, then beat SUNY Binghamton back-to-back, 10-9 and 16-11.

Game 3 on Friday is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., matching Metropolitan State University with St. Joseph’s University. The Metro State Roadrunners are traveling more than 650 miles from Denver, Colorado after winning the Rocky Lone Star Region. Metro State beat Air Force 11-1, and then played Houston CC in three straight games – winning 15-1, losing 8-14, before finally winning again 5-2. The St. Joe’s Hawks are traveling more than 1,100 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after winning the Chesapeake Region. St. Joe’s beat #1 Salisbury 8-4, and then went on to beat Temple back-to-back 9-4 and 12-6.

Game 4 on Friday is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., matching California University of Pennsylvania with Longwood University. The California (PA) Vulcans are traveling more than 900 miles from California, Pennsylvania after winning the New Penn Region. Cal (PA) beat Akron 7-2, SUNY – Buffalo 7-2, and Akron 14-8. The Longwood Lancers are traveling more than 1,050 miles from Farmville, Virginia after winning the Dixie Region Tournament. Longwood beat South Florida 6-5, and then played Central Florida in three straight games – winning 2-1, losing 1-3, before finally winning again 14-12.

Again, this is a five day, double-elimination tournament, with all games to be held at Jaycee Memorial Ball Field, and the championship game scheduled to be held Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m. The full bracket, rosters, and more information are available at http://div2.clubbaseball.org/worldseries/ Tickets to the NCBA DII World Series are available only at the front gate the day of the game.  NO PRESALE.  Day pass prices: $10 for Adults, $7 for College Students (ID required), $5 for children 12 and under &  Senior Citizens. Tournament Passes are also available. $25 for adults, $20 for College Students (ID required) & $15 for both children 12 and under along with Senior Citizens.  Ticket prices are subject to change. Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted.

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Blaine Fisher takes the mound in a PSU Gorilla Club baseball team scrimmage on Sunday May 13. The team is scheduled to play against Siena College at 1:00 p.m. on Friday May 18 at Jaycee Ballpark in Pittsburg in first round play of the NCBA Division II World Series. Fisher is a a 5th year senior at Pittsburg State University and is a graduate of Olathe South.

Nate Grimaldi leads off for the Red squad during a PSU Gorilla Club baseball team scrimmage on Sunday May 13. Grimaldi is a 5th year senior at Pittsburg State University and a St. Mary’s Colgan graduate. He is one of six players remaining the club team that originally started in 2016.

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