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Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

From San Juan Capistrano to Valpo, Ferketic enjoys baseball odyssey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trey Ferketic was with his third college baseball program — all in California — when he tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder.

Three screws were inserted in that right shoulder, the one that helped him make high-speed deliveries for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego.

The very first intrasquad scrimmage in late September at UCSD, Ferketic tore the labrum.

There were doubts about his ability to bounce back.

“Coaches and teammates told me I’d never pitch again,” says Ferketic. “I wanted to prove it to myself and anyone else that I could.”

Ferketic pitched in four games and worked 3 2/3 innings for UCSD in 2016, but the pain was just too great and he was shut down.

Thinking he had played his last, Ferketic finished his communications degree at the NCAA Division II school in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.

There was a sense of closure.

But rehabbing the injury, Ferketic got the idea he could still pitch and he wanted to do it at the Division I level — like he had in 2015 with the “Dirtbags” of Long Beach, where he made six appearances for 9 1/3 innings.

So he appealed to the NCAA to give him back a year of eligibility, claiming a medical hardship.

He was turned down the first time.

On the second try, he provided more information.

A lot more information.

Ferketic turned in more than 60 pages of paperwork.

“It was super extensive,” says Ferketic, who had to submit all his academic records from all his college stops, including summer classes taken elsewhere, and all his medical records. “It was a ton of work.”

This time, he was granted another year. He reached out to some of his connections. He had been recruited by Valparaiso University coming out of junior college ball at Saddleback and that’s where he decided his baseball odyssey would take him next.

“After I got my shoulder surgery, I wanted to play somewhere and I thought it be awesome to come out here and play in front of some new eyes and come to all these new states, new teams and places I’d never heard of,” says Ferketic. “That’s why I chose to come out here.”

Alerted to Ferketic’s availability by cousin and Next College Student Athlete representative Jim Sak, Valparaiso head coach Brian Schmack liked what he saw in bullpen session videos so he brought the Californian to northwest Indiana.

“He knows how to handle his business,” says Schmack of the graduate student. “He shows the younger guys how it’s supposed to be.

“We brought him out here to pitch. He gives us a chance every time.”

Ferketic, who is in the starting rotation for the Crusaders, is not the first graduate transfer for the Crusaders. In fact, he is not the only one on the 2018 squad. There’s catcher-infielder Zack Leone, of Pelham Manor, N.Y.

In 2013, Valpo brought in former Cal State Northridge right-hander Chris DeBoo as a grad transfer.

“He was a mature guy and he knew what it took to be successful,” says Schmack.

Valpo has been very successful in luring California players to play in Indiana.

“We’ve got enough connections out there where we’re getting referrals and maybe a couple of kids from the same high school,” says Schmack. It’s a word-of-mouth type of thing.

“Our thought is to go where the players are. We wanted to find guys who were driven to play baseball and we’ve found a niche out there.

“There’s some kids that say ‘I’m never leaving the state of California.’ There’s other that say ‘I want something new.’ Those guys are really accepting of what we have.”

Ferketic is one of 11 players with California hometowns on the roster. The others are redshirt junior infielder-outfielder Blake Billinger, sophomore outfielder Riley Dent, senior outfielder Giovanni Garbella, sophomore right-hander Michael Hardtke, sophomore right-hander Garrett Hill, senior infielder Chad Jacob, sophomore right-hander Jake Larson, junior left-hander Josh Leaverton, junior right-hander Montana Quigley and junior infielder Sam Shaikin.

There’s also two from Arizona — senior infielder-outfielder Jayden Eggiman and sophomore right-hander Easton Rhodehouse.

Ferketic has enjoyed the transition.

“It’s been awesome out here in the Midwest,” says Ferketic. “What sticks out to me is the seasons. In California, we don’t have seasons at all.

“Pitching in 35 degrees, snow and rain has been crazy. I have more respect now for this part of the country for people who have to grind through that. It’s been cool to experience that.”

Another thing is the different styles of baseball.

“On the West Coast, there’s a lot of ‘small ball’ and playing for one run. It’s pitching- and defense-dominated,” says Ferketic. “Out here, these guys swing for the fences. There’s home runs almost every game.”

Sometimes the wind blowing out favors Valpo and other times it works to the advantage of the opponent.

“You’d like to think it evens out over the course of the year — at least you want to believe that,” says Ferketic.

He expresses appreciation for what Valpo coaches — Schmack, full-time assistants Ben Wolgamot and Nic Mishler and volunteer Kory Winter — have done for him.

“They have a lot of trust in their players,” says Ferketic. “It’s a lot easier to play and it takes a lot of pressure off, knowing the coach believes in you and wants you to succeed.”

A focus on the mechanical side has been keeping him directional rather than rotational (with his shoulder flying open).

“I’m a sinker guy and I play off movement,” says Ferketic. “I need to be linear or it goes where I don’t want it to go. I need to have that downhill plane.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

As a graduate student, Ferketic is working toward a masters degree in sports administration and will likely finish in December.

He chose that route to stay closer to athletics and can see himself running a training facility, scouting program or sporting goods operation.

But he’s still a player right now and he’s soaking that up.

“I would love to play more baseball,” says Ferketic. “I can’t imagine hanging them up. It’s going to be a sad day when I do.

“But I don’t know what my shoulder’s got left. I really don’t. It’s kind of on borrowed time.”

Valpo (18-32) is seeded No. 7 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Dallas and plays No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist Wednesday, May 23. The event continues through Saturday, May 26. The winner earns an NCAA tournament berth.

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Valparaiso University’s Trey Ferketic delivers a pitcher in 2018. He is a graduate transfer from California in his only season with the Crusaders. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic pitched for JSerra Catholic High School, Saddleback College, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego before landing with Valparaiso (Ind.) Universty in 2018. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic wanted to make his comeback from shoulder surgery at the NCAA Division I level and the California native decided to do it in the Midwest with Valparaiso University. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)