My University Experience
I grew up in Calgary playing Cal South Little League, then on to Baseball Calgary from ages 13-16, and then PBF for my last two years of high school. I was never anything special, but my last year of PBF, I became the team’s best pitcher, throwing the first game of a series, and playing outfield the last two or three games with a hanging arm. That year I finished the season with a record of something like 17-2, with 25 games started, and a sub 2 ERA. I was probably throwing around 82-83mph from the left side, with a changeup that I could throw in any count. The number of looks from scouts or schools I received was one, a CCBC school. Not exactly what I was hoping for. One of the best resources available to me at the time was Canadian Baseball Connect. Basically you pay $250 for a coach to do an evaluation on you, and they post a video and the evaluation online, and send it out to “all” the schools (Junior Colleges, NAIA, NCAA).
From this website, I probably got about 10 emails, 7 of them from Div II or III Juco’s, and 3 NAIA’s. I ended up going on a visit to a couple of the NAIA’s, and chose University of the Cumberlands, a mid-tier NAIA school that had recent history of going to the regionals and being ranked. I received a $11,000 mixed (academic and athletic) scholarship, with the hopes that it would increase as the years went on. I didn’t really comprehend that school would actually cost me an extra $20,000 per year on top of my scholarship. My first fall at Cumberlands, I was introduced to a real throwing program, that included a great warmup, and tons of long toss. There were pitching staff members that were much bigger than me, as I was about 6’2” and a measly 170lbs. My long toss was pitiful, as guys were stretching it out beyond 300 ft, while I was struggling to consistently get to 180 ft. I noticed my arm was starting to get sore from long tossing so much, but after a few weeks, it started getting much stronger, and I was starting to be able to stretch it out with the best of them, AND being able to throw it on a line on the way in. During an intersquad later in the fall, I was starting to touch 87-88mph, and getting some serious interest from the coaches about starting conference games in the Spring. I’ll never forget something my coach told me during that winter’s performance reviews. He said “You have a ton of potential Donovan. You work hard, you have a great attitude, and you had a great fall. But potential is just unused success.” I didn’t understand what that meant for a long time. The season started, and I struggled, and I lost confidence. Coach didn’t put me in any tough situations, because he never knew if I would lose it on the mound. He did give me a great opportunity that summer, as he got me a spot in the Prospect Summer League, that features a bunch of talented Freshman and Sophomore players from mid tier NCAA Div I schools. I was able to regain a lot of confidence that summer, and wound up being a starter that was going to start game one of the playoffs until we lost our spot in playoffs on the last day of the season.
Going into my sophomore season, I had my confidence back and an extra 20 pounds on my frame. I was expected to produce for my team in the spring, but again I lost confidence, and just wasn’t able to produce any decent results. That summer, I came back and played in the WMBL in Canada, and it was much like season, with sub par results.
I ended up finishing my junior year with a 2.75 ERA, and was invited on a temporary contract to the Northwoods Summer League, the second best summer league. The talent on that roster was incredible, all NCAA Div I players. I dominated the first third of the season, with a 0.50 ERA, and was invited to stay the rest of the summer. It was somewhat up and down the rest of the summer, but I was able to compete against some great talent. From that team, 20 players were either picked up that year or drafted the next by affiliated teams.
Coming back to Cumberlands for my senior year with my confidence high, I ended up tearing my UCL and needing Tommy John. Let me tell you something, that was both the hardest year for me, sitting on the sidelines watching my teammates playing the game they love, but it was also the best year for me. I realized how much I loved the game, and how much I had taken for granted every component of baseball, the preparation and the enjoyment of helping my team win games.
Finally my fifth year came around. My arm was starting to gain the strength back from before surgery. I had gotten my weight up to around 220 pounds. I came in to my first game in relief and struck out 10 of the 13 guys I faced, but was only topping 86mph. I thought it was a decent starting point for my first game back. I eventually became a starter in midweek games, and was up to 92mph for a Red Sox scout during a game, but the mound was extremely tall and steep, which probably boosted the reading a few mph. I then became a conference weekend starter, and threw my first complete game shutout. By the end of the year, I had become the number one starter. Then came the conference tournament. I was starting the opening game against one of the top teams in the country, with a great offense. I threw a great game, going 7.1 innings with only 1 unearned run against when a reliever came in to finish my 8th inning. According to the gun at the stadium, I was only 86-88 with a scout or two there. Their three hitter got drafted that June, and that year against me he was 0 for 4, with 3 strikeouts and a GIDP. I finished the year with a 0.50 ERA, which is top 5 in school history. Sadly, I didn’t get drafted that year, and thus started my next three years of turmoil in independent baseball, with the dream of getting picked up.
My next article will go more into what I wish I knew before I went through this experience.