Kent State baseball players, past and present, still feel draw of College World Series team (part 2)


David Lyon takes up the bat during the March 23, 2012 game against Northern Illinois. Lyon was picked up by the Texas Rangers in the 2012 MLB draft and now swings for a rookie team in the Arizona Leage. Photo by Jenna Watson.

Jim Piascik

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story about the journey of five former Kent State baseball players, who are now playing professionally, and how they remain connected to current KSU players. read part one here

David Starn, Ryan Bores, David Lyon, Jimmy Rider and Nick Hamilton are going from collegiate athletics, where they are required to go to class and the NCAA limits time spent on baseball activities, to professional baseball. Minor league baseball has one goal — create major league players — and the time investment required to create a major league player is massive.

“It’s every day from 10 [in the morning] to 11 at night,” said Starn, the Flashes’ 2012 ace and a seventh-round selection of the Atlanta Braves. “During the season, you’re at the field all day […] or you’re on the road for eight, nine days at a time.”

“You’re at the field for eight hours a day,” said Bores, a 27th-round pick of the Texas Rangers. “You’ve got a game every day. We had one day off every five days for Rookie Ball. We got, maybe two days off in the entire month for the Advanced League.

“You’re starting all over again,” he said. “It’s like you’re a freshman in high school playing on the freshman team, working your way up to varsity, the major leagues. It’s kind of rough starting over, but once you get over the fact, and get out there and just play and have fun, it’s not a big deal.”

The grind has not stopped the former Flashes from helping out current Kent State players looking to get drafted in the near future. Returning senior Evan Campbell, who constantly stole the show last year with game-winning hits and diving catches, caught up with some of the drafted Flashes who worked out at KSU over the winter and gained some insight into what his future might hold after Kent State.

“They were pretty basic,” Campbell said. “They said all the rumors were true: it’s a grind, every day. It’s real monotonous, but you’re getting the opportunity. It’s what we all dream for. Every day they wake up and they get a shot, so it’s definitely worth it.”

Thanks to his flashy plays and clutch performances, Campbell was one of the most recognizable names on the Flashes’ roster last season. Unfortunately for him, that did not parlay itself into being drafted by a major league team, something Campbell is using to fuel himself in 2013.

“Last year, I thought I was going to get a shot,” he said. “But now, I can use that to drive me for this year. Still, I’ve been in contact with a lot of teams […] and if I get fortunate enough to get an opportunity, then I’ll definitely take it.”

Similarly, the Kent State coaching staff has to be surprised to be getting MAC Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player George Roberts back in 2013. After all the accolades — and the draft snub — the infielder is ready to lead the Flashes back to the College World Series. A hand injury has sidelined Roberts early in the season, but his aspirations remain the same.

“Awards are great,” Roberts said. “But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me is getting another MAC championship and [going] to Omaha.

“We don’t want to be the team that, the following year, kind of fell off,” Roberts said. “We want to stay up on top while we’re up there.”

For Roberts and Campbell, 2013 is a year to build upon the success the team accomplished last season.

“We got an upgraded weight room, which has helped,” Roberts said. “We got a great group of freshmen that came in, […] we’ve been meshing real well. Our team, I would say, is just as close as last year’s team.”

“Since I’ve been there, we’ve always won MAC titles and done the postseason,” Campbell said. “But this year, it’s almost like we’ve still been riding that College World Series out. […] We had to slowly put it behind us and start being where we’re at for this season. It was nice to make it as far as we did, and it’s kind of going to challenge us for this season because now we know what it’s like to get there and how hard it was and what it takes to get there.”

While Campbell and Roberts have begun what they hope will be another run at Omaha in 2013; the graduated Flashes are gearing up for their first full season of pro ball. The offseason programs in college and the pros are very different; it’s something that takes an adjustment.

“I’ve never really had this much downtime,” Starn said. “No one’s there to make sure you do all the work. The biggest thing I think is keeping in shape. […] You want to go in there well rested and well prepared for spring training.”

“In college, it’s basically year-round,” he explained. “You have a specific weight-training routine, you have a coach, and you’re there as a team, so it’s not on your own at all. Here, there’s no one watching you, you have to go in on your own, make you do your workouts, and make sure you’re healthy.”

As for Bores and Lyon, the Rangers took notice of them over the summer and invited them to come into camp early for extra work and attention from the staff. Though being forced to do extra work could come off as negative, the real implication of this is that the organization has deemed them worthy of the limited resources available to the team and is giving them more consideration than the average minor leaguer.

Another person inside baseball who has taken notice of this group of Kent State players is former Flash and current Columbus Clippers player Anthony Gallas. Gallas, who played with all the draftees except Bores, was riveted by the team’s Omaha run in 2012.

“People across the country didn’t really give Kent State too much respect,” Gallas said. “When I was playing pro ball, people ask ‘Where you’re from? What school did you go to?’ And when you say Kent State, they’re like ‘What’s that?’ And now this past year, with that team going to Omaha, it validates everything that the Kent State program has and has been throughout the years.”

“We’re a solid program, and that run that they had, it was magical and so fun to watch, seeing the guys that I played with, a couple of seniors like Jim Rider, David Starn, David Lyon,” Gallas said. “Just seeing those guys succeed, just seeing the coaching staff finally get to the point where they won it. It was just special and I hope they can do it again.”

Gallas has done his best to stay in touch with the College World Series team and recent draftees. That advice, coming from a player who has had success in the minors to date and got a late-season taste of Triple-A last year surely means a lot.

“I’ve gotten a chance to see Starn,” Gallas said. “I just told him to keep working. If he wants to reach the ultimate point, he’s got a lot of work to do, but he can do it. I congratulated him on the season. I sent texts to David Lyon and Jimmy Rider, congratulating them on a great season, but I haven’t had a chance to see them.”

Naturally, former Kent State players don’t all stay together in the pros — that simply is not how things work. Yet the makeup of the Kent State team, the closeness and camaraderie between former Flashes, is strong.

“I love everything about playing baseball for Kent State,” Campbell said. “We’ve got the best coaching staff in the country, and they proved that this past season. It’s pretty much a local team with a bunch of local guys, which is nice. […] It just really couldn’t get much better.”

The odds are long for any minor leaguer and even longer for a player not picked in the first few rounds out of a smaller college. But each of these Kent State players has already overcome plenty, getting to the College World Series and getting drafted in the first place. The road ahead is hard, but each of them is ready to put in the work and conquer the grind, whether they are in the pros or still at Kent State.

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].