Youth baseball: Crossroads event ‘educational’ for players’ parents
The learning process goes both ways when it comes to the Crossroads Baseball Series.
The five-year-old event, founded and still run by former RailCats player Eric Blakeley, was set up to showcase high school players of a variety of talent levels for college coaches.
That’s still the goal of the Crossroads Series, which features both skills competitions and all-star games for players from four states: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.
But Blakeley also wants players — and their families — to come away with some valuable information. That’s why there’s a question-and-answer session featuring coaches from NCAA Divisions I, II and III as well as the NAIA.
“It’s an educational thing for the parents,” Blakeley said. “When I was getting recruited, my parents had no idea what to expect.”
Blakeley wound up going to Indiana University, which will be the site of the Indiana Crossroads Series on Wednesday. There, players from around the state — including a Northwest Indiana team coached by Portage’s Tim Pirowski, Griffith’s Brian Jennings and Haniver Central’s Doug Nelson — will get a chance to catch the eye of college coaches both in position-specific drills and in game situations.
The timing couldn’t have been much better, what with this year’s Hoosiers becoming the first Big Ten team to reach the College World Series in 29 years.
“It’s kind of cool to move it to my alma mater, especially since it’s got a $10 million stadium now,” Blakeley said.
The Indiana event will be the fourth one, following earlier stops in Ohio (at Wright State), Illinois (Illinois State) and Michigan (Michigan State). The top players from each of the state series then will move on to the Crossroads Championship Series July 30-31 at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.
Keeping a local flavor for the showcase has always been a priority for Blakeley.
“When we first started the whole Crossroads thing, I just ... moved here,” he said. “I wanted to bring something to the area for the kids here.”
Getting top players to commit to the event has become less difficult, though Blakeley occasionally runs up against travel-team conflicts.
“The Crossroads name is known now,” he said. “It is a little easier; people have heard about it before.”
And the conversation goes both ways, as Blakeley has listened to college coaches’ suggestions for tweaking the format to make the event more worth their while.
Initially, pitchers threw a bullpen session before coming back later to pitch in the games. “It was too much,” Blakeley said, especially for players who traveled from distant parts of the various states to the showcases.
So now pitchers throw 12 “showcase” pitches, displaying their repertoire and working from the stretch and the wind-up before getting an inning of game action. “The colleges didn’t need to see them more than one inning,” Blakeley said.
Another change has been to have first basemen both hold runners on and throw in the skills segment, in case those situations don’t come up during the games.
Chiefs are champs: The Indiana Chiefs of Hammond’s 14-and-under club beat the NWI Shockers Blue 10-2 last Sunday to win the Midwest Baseball Championships in Portage. The Chiefs went 6-1-1 in the event, including six straight wins to end the tourney. Evan Hylek drove in five runs in the title game.
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