Pitcher AJ Collie pitches for the 2009 Under Armour All-American Game.
Even though, I'm still a bit wet behind the ears being only 22 years old, I'm pretty confident I know my way around a city, around a room, and around sports. That said, I'm all too familiar with the repetitive rhetoric blared at a deafening volume that concerns the constant battle on where the line is that defines an athlete between an "amateur" and "professional."
To be truly noticed on the national recruiting map, high school athletes have to replace time spent renting the limo for junior prom or focusing solely on studying for Advanced Placement exams with such activities as gearing up for another college spring camp or squeezing in studying for Advanced Placement exams on their way to a scouting combine to raise their recruiting profile.
As essential as combines have become in today's recruiting scene, at their core, they essentially filter out the athlete's performances into digestible numbers to be crunched and plotted on a chart. This practice literally rips the soul out of whatever sport that athlete plays.
Combines rob the sport of its poetry and its narrative.
Now there's no denying that Broad Run High School's sophomore pitcher AJ Powell's stats can be broken down into some seriously gleaming numbers. The hurler has tossed three no-hitters this season alone, one of them being a perfect game. And it's arguable that Powell is not even the best pitcher on the Spartan's staff. Broad Run also boasts senior ace Taylor Clarke who is committed to go to Towson.
So with two aces on a staff, a coach would be tempted to roll out each pitcher on every other start and just rack up the wins, bright futures at Towson and beyond, be damned. That dilemma stares skipper Patrick Cassidy in the face this season, even though it's tempting, Cassidy coached only two no-hitters in his first 15 years at the helm in Ashburn.
"You have to be careful on how you use a pitcher for their future," said Cassidy. Cassidy manages his pitchers to 70-80 pitches at the season's outset and come district and regional playoff time, he bumps up his pitchers' counts to 80 to 95 pitches.
Pitch count is essential in baseball as both as barometer to see how good a pitcher is (the lower the pitch count, typically the more efficient and effective said pitcher is), as well as a safety measure.
Local fans are well aware of the overly delicate kid gloves the Nationals have used when handling the development of Stephen Strausberg with his maturing into the major leagues, the couple games he threw in, and now his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
In that tiny bit of space between the rock and the hard place, Cassidy finds he doesn't have much room for error. Obviously, the coach wants to bring home the Dulles District title. At the same token, Cassidy doesn't want to burn out his pitching staff for bigger games this season and future scheduled starts on different pitching mounds for the sophomore.
Fortunately, for Cassidy, Broad Run has made a habit of wrapping up games by the virtue of the "Mercy Rule," a 10 run differential by the 5th inning, instituted by the Virginia High School League, the governing body of public school athletics. Cassidy says his offense's production has been so good, often his pitchers don't have to pitch the full game, hence keep their arms fresh.
But in cases where the games are close, Cassidy has to come to the decision to let the foot off the gas by pulling his starters and dipping into his bullpen.
"The problem is (the players are) 15- or 16-years-old and they don't want to disappoint their coaches," said Cassidy.
It would appear Cassidy has an embarrassment of riches: dominant pitchers who are locked in on performing in the moment and who haven't gotten around to thinking about their playing futures yet.
To me, that state of mind is fascinating. Athletic brilliance? Desire to win? Sacrificing your body for the team? Those are all qualities that are a part of the make-up for a professional athlete. So much what makes pros good is that drive to win, and you can see that bleed in a little bit into the amateur ranks. And good for Cassidy to recognize that and manage his roster.
The essence of sports is in that desire to succeed. I'm all about sportsmanship and l'esprit de competition, but really sports are about investing effort to earn a successful outcome.
All the combines in the world can't measure that.