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June 28, 2016: Coastal Carolina outfielder Anthony Marks #29 tagged out by Arizona infielder Cody Ramer #13 to finish the top of the ninth during the second game of the Finals in the College Worlds Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Coastal Carolina 5 Arizona 4. (Photo by John Peterson/Icon Sportswire)
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So you want to play college baseball? A primer and cautionary tale

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A well-informed college athlete is a happy college athlete. That probably goes double for college baseball. Let’s go ahead and say triple, just for good measure.

Because hopping from one place to another is common and sometimes essential, these guys have to know all the details and become exponentially well-versed in the fine print.

In college baseball, there is no such thing as a 100-percent full ride scholarship. Very few players — very few — end up being completely covered by athletic and academic money awarded through scholarships. The smart ones find ways to earn a little extra. At some schools, players can collect donations to help their cause. At others, good grades are the only sure way to secure a chunk of free money — the smaller programs, such as those in Division III, can’t offer athletic scholarships.

Prospective players have to be studious. They don’t have access to the same type of resources often utilized by football and basketball players. The revenue sports guys live in another world, something wildly foreign to the vast majority of college baseball players.

Want to play college baseball? Make sure you read the story of Anthony Marks, who, four years ago, walked-on at Coastal Carolina to live his dream. The Chanticleers won the 2016 College World Series, a sure joy for Marks, but he must now must figure out a way to pay off roughly $150,000 in student debt, per the Omaha Herald. He’s still one semester shy of graduation, too.

Not all tales are like Marks’ situation, though. Meanwhile, heed with caution, prospective college baseball player. Plan wisely.

It Could Be Smooth

This past spring, Cody Bruder graduated from Michigan with zero loan debt. Absolutely nothing, he said, not even a small fine or installment.

An intelligent student, Bruder took advantage of Pell Grants while at Orange Coast College, a JUCO in California, before making it to the Division I level. In some states, JUCOs offer athletic money; however, in California, they aren’t allowed to hand out scholarships.

Bruder got a head start on the game.

Later, Bruder had to make sure that he’d qualify for enough academic money to offset the cost of an otherwise generous — comparatively speaking — athletic scholarship at Michigan, where he spent his final two years. Yes, the Wolverines were going to give him a healthy gift, but attending Michigan wasn’t going to be cheap by any means, scholarship or not.

Fortunately for Bruder, housing was covered in Ann Arbor. He also received an $1,800 monthly stipend, a perk of being a scholarship athlete.

In all, he estimates that 60 to 65 percent of his education expense at Michigan was covered via baseball money. Out-of-state tuition is roughly $43,000 per year –$57,000 per year cost of attendance — according to CollegeData.com. In the end, Michigan paid for more than $74,000 for Bruder to study and compete. Pells covered the rest. He lived a comfortable lifestyle in Ann Arbor, too.

“It’s a great program,” he said. “I have no complaints. They treat you very well at Michigan.”

After graduation, Bruder — who was one of the most consistent hitters in Division I — was approached by the Sydney Blue Sox, a pro team in Australia, but he instead decided to focus on his career in the environmental field.

“I’ve got to help get my mom retired, man,” he said, laughing.

Two schools, four years. Zero debt.

A far cry from owing more than $150,000, but not necessarily the norm. Bruder indicated that some of his former teammates had different experiences. Some qualified for financial assistance. Some earned academic money. Some were partially covered by athletic scholarship, ranging from the 30- to 40-percent levels, per Bruder.

But they all owed something.

Photo Credit: mgoblue.com

Photo Credit: mgoblue.com

Prepare to Work

At age 21, Austin Jackson — a 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-handed pitcher — has been around the block. Uncommon but not totally unheard of in baseball, Jackson has his eyes set on his fourth school in four years. Yes, four schools in four years.

After high school, Jackson attended Freed-Hardeman, where tuition runs at approximately $25,000 per year, in hopes of starting his career off on a high note. The offer from Freed-Hardeman was small, just $5,000 per year, but Jackson wanted to play baseball so he accepted. In addition, he secured $5,000 in academic scholarships, leaving $15,000 to cover on his own, which he did by working.

After one year, he decided to transfer, but then he tore his UCL, forcing him to miss the 2014 season with Chattanooga State. Instead of playing at CSU, he enrolled at Motlow, a junior college, in order to rehab. Luckily, he found a job to make up for lost athletic money.

“I had to work at Firehouse Subs while in school,” said Jackson, who had a short stay a Motlow. Shortly afterward, an opportunity at Chattanooga State presented itself, so he followed that lead. Because of his strong work ethic, Firehouse arranged for Jackson to transfer his manager status and pay rate to a location near Chattanooga State.

“They pretty much hooked me up,” he said.

Because service jobs don’t last forever and are typically stepping stones to something more, Jackson left the sub shop in search of something more flexible — so he started working for a moving company — via mobile app assignments — and a local drug store.

Saving and working. Saving and working. A

ll in preparation for the next step of the college baseball ride, which has led him to Erksine College in South Carolina. The school will cover roughly half of a $30,000 annual tuition. Jackson will need to take out a loan, but he won’t be swimming in debt.

Yeah, he took a few turns. And for the most part, he did his homework. It wasn’t a perfect plan. But it was a plan that worked out for Jackson, who remains hopeful that he’ll one day be drafted.

“I always looked at it as short-term-wise, I guess. My first couple of years of college, I looked at as short-term. I just saw the money right there in my face, and you just take it,” Jackson said. “If I could give any advice to a high school kid, honestly, look at long-term what you want to do with your life. And really, how much you love the game.

“Because, if you don’t love this game, you’re not going to want to make the sacrifices. I can say that I love this game enough to where I’m going to make the sacrifices, and continue to make the sacrifices, to get where I hopefully want to be one day. You know what I mean?”

It’s OK to Play it Safe

Known for a nasty slider, Travis Perkola — a Division-I caliber pitcher — has made his way through the familiar collegiate circuit for the past three years. This fall, the redshirt junior plans to enroll at Ohio Valley, a Division II program in West Virginia.

“Out of high school, at Macomb Dakota, I did have the possibility to play Division I — but they wanted me to walk-on,” said Perkola, who threw two no-hitters during his Mustangs’ Flint CBL title run this summer. “I did not want to take that amount of money. I’d get no money as a walk-on.”

That wasn’t an option for Perkola; he had been aggressively advised against traveling that road.

“I’ve had good mentors in my life, and one of my coaches told me, ‘Walk-ons, basically, get treated like the worst of the worst — people with money in college baseball get treated better than kids who have no money,'” Perkola said. In essence, teams invest in a player — the better the player, the more athletic scholarship assistance.

Perkola needed a more reliable plan, which led him to Lee University, a top-25 Division II program in Tennessee.

“They gave me 35 percent, which I was OK with — I knew it was a really good program, really respected in the baseball world,” he said. “I went down there, I was there for two years. The first year, I redshirted. I was behind an All-American in right field. I figured that I’d take a year, learn the game of college baseball and learn from my peers. I actually really enjoyed redshirting.”

Due to an injured player, Perkola played a lot during his second year.

“I got really good experience playing in the Gulf South Conference, which is the SEC of the DII world,” he said. “I was really happy about that.”

The next year, the previously injured player returned as a healthy senior. If he wanted to keep playing, Perkola had to make another move, so he found a spot at Chattanooga State, a JUCO not far from Lee.

And lo and behold, he ended up finding the closest thing possible to a freebie in baseball.

“It’s actually a fully funded program, and they give out 27 full scholarships — we carried 30 guys,” said Perkola. “We carried 30 guys.”

Players from Canada, Texas and Venezuela joined the program because the program had so much money to disperse. The “Tennessee Promise” afforded two years for in-state high school grads, creating a larger athletic budget for Chattanooga State.

“All we had to do was pay for housing,” said Perkola, who left with a degree and two years of remaining eligibility.

He’s well-traveled, but he’s logged quality miles. On top of that, coaches at four-year programs have a great deal of respect for JUCO transfers, and in turn, are more likely to make generous scholarship offers.

Perkola executed his plan. No snap decisions. No unnecessary risks, either.

“Since I went to junior college, they value you more as a player since you already have all this college experience,” Perkola said. “So they give you more money than if you were just out of high school — that’s why I promote the junior colleges. Mott’s (Mich.) a great program. Macomb’s a great program. Plus you save tens of thousands of dollars.”

The Bait-and-Switch

Justin Robertson is on his way to Trinity, an NAIA (Division II) program in Chicago. He’ll have two years. Probably should be three, though. According to Robertson, he was lied to and essentially robbed of a year by Ashland, a Division II program in Ohio.

He believed the word of the coaching staff. He believed they’d uphold their agreement — the agreement that prompted Robertson to choose Ashland in the first place.

“They picked me up — they promised me — I was an early signing guy — they promised me a spot on the team and scholarship money,” he said. “They said they were looking to pick up eight to 10 guys, and that they usually don’t redshirt guys. I get there, and there’s 35 freshmen… So I left, and I went to Macomb Community College after that. Played there. Those three semesters were great. It’s a great program. It was a great experience.”

Near to his home. Familiar. Macomb helped Roberston salvage a promising career. He was smart, weighed his options and refused to let one bad experience derail his plan.

“It’s a very common practice in Division I, and now it’s rapidly spreading to the Division II programs,” Robertson said of over-recruiting. “I talked to a lot of guys… (Division II) Northwood (Mich.), Tiffin (Ohio), those guys all have very big rosters and promise guys playing time. They say, ‘Not many guys come in… blah, blah, blah, whatever’ — it’s a very common practice.”

Academically speaking, Robertson enjoyed his time at Ashland, which paid 50 percent of his tuition. He even enrolled in a work-study, paying $1,000 per semester, helping to make the best of a sour situation.

“I loved it there, it’s just not the type of respect that you’re supposed to give your players,” Robertson said, later adding: “I saved a lot of money going to Macomb, so I’m coming out with minimal debt. I was only at Ashland for a semester, and it was $15,000 to go there. So I took out a loan for that ($7,500).”

Roberston says that Trinity will pay roughly 50 percent of his $13,000 annual tuition for two years. The rest will be covered by academic scholarships and other award money. He’ll have some debt, but he won’t be buried. He was aware of the “risk” attached to pursuing a collegiate baseball career. With that being said, he appears to be in line for a happy ending.

“Baseball to me, was the biggest opportunity for me to not have to pay as much for college,” said Robertson.

Be Sharp, Be Smart

Matt Minaudo knew the score from Day 1. Grades, if nothing else, were going to afford an advantage over the rest of his competitors. Not everyone has the exemplary academics to combine with great athletic ability — Minaudo used both to perfection following his days at Warren De La Salle.

Because of that, he knew he was a shoo-in for a four-year school. Entering college, he was well-studied and well prepared.

“I thought that I put too much into my education, into high school — I paid to go to high school — to go to Macomb,” Minaudo said. “No offense to anyone who goes there, but I thought I worked too hard… I got straight-As in high school, so I wanted to go to a four-year school.”

When you carry 4.0s across the board, you can be choosy — and he chose Alma, a Division III program that doesn’t award athletic money — and let the transcripts do all the work.

“It’s like $40-some-thousand to go to Alma, a private college, but nobody ever pays the full price,” said Minaudo, who has partially balanced costs with financial aid and on-campus jobs. “I go for about $20,000 or $21,000, depending on the year…”

What about the schollie count? Truth?

“The coach was really cool about it, he was straight-up — he told me that I’d have a chance to start as a freshman, and I did,” Minaudo said. “We didn’t bring in a lot of guys. He promised me that there wasn’t going to be (a lot of freshmen). He said there’d be competition, but not a lot.”

In hindsight, his experience was much different that what Roberston had endured at Ashland and vastly opposite of what some had gone through at other Division III programs.

“There are some, like Adrian (Mich.), that bring in a ton of guys,” Minaudo said. “They have like 60, almost 70 guys on their team. You’ve got guys who are going and paying a lot of money who aren’t getting any athletic scholarship. I know a lot of guys who have just transferred out or sit on JV. They never see a varsity game in four years.”

Life can be rough, cruel and unfair in the foggy world of college baseball scholarships and scarce cash. Information and solid relationships are key to a successful career. If those are absent,well, prepare for the worst.

“At some schools, 40 guys are paying for 30 guys to play,” Minaudo said.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

So you want to play college baseball? A primer and cautionary tale

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