By STEVE KRAH
Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.
Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.
Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade.
Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago.
The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.
At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.
There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.
“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”
Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.
Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.
CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.
“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.
“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”
What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.
Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program.
It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.
“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.
The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.
“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”
Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.
“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”
Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.
Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.
“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.
NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.
The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.
Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.
“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”
The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.
“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.
“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”
As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.
“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”
Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.
“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”
A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.
After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.
Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season.
“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”
Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.
RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family.
Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.
“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good.
“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”