By Jason Hortsch Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of Portland baseball team found itself in an unfamiliar position this year, with four incoming recruits selected in Major League Baseball's annual First Year Player Draft. Incoming freshmen Kody Watts, Caleb Whalen, Travis Radke and Tyler Glasnow were all selected in the draft, and all but Glasnow decided to attend UP.
"This is a rare occurrence," head baseball coach Chris Sperry said. "There has never been more than one recruit drafted a year before this."
Sperry chalks up the surge in drafted recruits to the rising popularity of the UP program.
"We're just playing better. The program has more to offer
this year," Sperry said. "With more funding, we were able to hire another assistant coach, Larry Casian, who is one of the best pitching coaches around. This has all translated to success."
This can certainly be seen in the team's success last year, when they tied for third in the conference with an 11-10 record in conference play.
Saying no when the big leagues come knocking is not an easy decision. Yet this is exactly what three-quarters of Sperry's recruiting class draftees chose.
"This is due to a complex group of issues," Sperry said. "Number one is that we were dealing with families that value education. Having a backup plan after baseball makes sense. Earning a degree will let them do something that makes them happy later in life if baseball is not an option."
Watts, Whalen and Radke echoed their coach's sentiments.
"You only get one college experience," Watts, who was drafted in the 15th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, said. "I'd rather do it when I'm 18, and didn't want to have to do it when I'm 27. With the great coaches here, I'll just get better and hopefully get drafted higher."
Watts will become eligible for the draft again in three years.
Despite ultimately deciding to delay his professional chances, Watts was still ecstatic about being drafted.
"There was a lot of excitement," Watts said. "It was a great feeling. It gave me a lot of confidence."
"Being drafted was always a dream of mine," Whalen, who was drafted by the Milwaukie Brewers in the 42nd round, said. "I was hoping I could get drafted even if I didn't sign."
Like Watts, Whalen also chose to attend college before entering the MLB.
"I had already made up my mind that I wanted to go to college and get a couple years under my belt," Whalen said. "I wanted to get an education and fine tune my skills."
"I loved everything I saw about the school, the coaches and the players. Education was the better route for me," Radke, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 46th round, said. "I really felt like coming here was the best place to get the education and coaching that I wanted."
Going to college in order to further develop as a player is a common theme among the players, and their coach could not agree more.
"The college environment is a smoother, more comfortable transition from high school," Sperry said. "It allows players to mature physically and emotionally. If you're 17 or 18 trying to play pro, you are probably sent to a spring training facility, where it is lonely and there is no support system."
These difficulties make it easier to understand the struggle faced by young drafted players to eventually make the major leagues. In contrast, at UP the coaches and other players create a support system that will foster development for these new recruits throughout the next few years, ultimately offering the program even more success.