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Disabato: Local high school baseball players choose Mount Carmel over travel team

Mount Carmel baseball coach Brian Hurry was happy find out some his players will wait play travel ball until after

Mount Carmel baseball coach Brian Hurry was happy to find out some of his players will wait to play travel ball until after the high school season. l File photo

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Updated: April 8, 2013 7:39AM



I made it a point to call Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry as I was beginning to gather information for the coming high school baseball season.

The 13-year veteran, who has sent 59 players to various levels of college ball, including 20 to Division I schools nationwide, was in good spirits.

As well he should be. The Caravan will rank among the elite this spring.

The phone call, however, wasn’t specifically about the upcoming season.

If you recall, four of his sophomores — Ako Thomas, Malik Carpenter, Josh Stowers and Nelson Munoz — had committed to play for the Gravel 16U Youth Baseball team for the spring. I had written about Gravel in July and about how it planned to travel the country, from March into October, in hopes of providing its players with greater exposure to college coaches.

If there’s one thing high school players are not lacking today, it’s having an opportunity to showcase their skills to college coaches. A pitcher knowing how to set up a hitter or a catcher calling a game without looking into the dugout for guidance is an entirely different matter.

By committing to Gravel, Thomas (Chicago), Carpenter (South Holland), Stowers (Westchester) and Munoz (Chicago Heights) no longer would be able to play for Mount Carmel. None of the players on Gravel, in fact, would be able to play high school ball.

Hurry was not happy at the time about the dilemma.

I’m happy to report, however, that Thomas, Carpenter, Stowers and Munoz all had a change of heart and are playing for Mount Carmel.

Oh, they’re still going to play for Gravel’s 16U team — just not until after Mount Carmel’s season is complete.

“They’re all back, and it’s a great thing,” Hurry said. “They were all initially confused. But I couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s worked out.”

Neither could I — and it has nothing to do with Mount Carmel or people associated with Gravel.

It has everything to do with preserving the quality of high school baseball in these parts.

Call me naive, but I still believe high school sports provide a valuable service that goes well beyond what happens between the lines. Teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty and work ethic are intangibles not only required to succeed in sports, but in life. Playing high school sports enhances those intangibles.

High school sports remain about playing for the name on the front of the jersey. Those who fail to subscribe to that theory transfer schools.

Travel ball, for the most part, remains about the name on the back of the jersey.

“The four of us talked about it together at the end of the summer,” Thomas said of his sit-down with Carpenter, Stowers and Munoz. “We decided we like going to Mount Carmel and playing baseball. Mount Carmel has been a good experience for me. The baseball, academics and coaches. I like everything.”

Thomas, a middle infielder, admitted he felt some peer pressure about possibly giving up on high school baseball.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t peer pressure that made him change his mind.

Yes, he loves everything about Mount Carmel. But the opportunity to be included in the circle of champions at 64th and Dante is what motivates him every day.

“We can actually win a state title the next three years,” Thomas said. “You win a state trophy here and you’ll always be remembered.”

Thomas, Carpenter, Stowers and Munoz likely don’t know it yet, but they’ll be talking about the next three years of playing baseball at Mount Carmel the rest of their lives — state championship or not.

The Catholic League Blue showdowns against St. Rita, Brother Rice, St. Laurence and Providence, in front of throngs of people, will bring the sweetest of memories, win or lose.

Hearing the well-wishes of classmates during school hours fondly will be recalled, too.

And, yes, the chance to win a state championship ... it goes without saying how priceless that memory would be.

That’s what playing high school sports offers that travel ball doesn’t.

And, despite what some say, high school baseball also offers an opportunity to earn a college scholarship.

True, many scholarships are secured through travel ball. There’s no minimizing the impact there.

But college coaches from all levels still find time in their busy schedules to attend high school games, mostly in May.

Together, high school baseball and travel ball offer a best of both worlds experience for players.

“It’s definitely a win-win for the kids,” Hurry said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s all worked out.”



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