Two weeks. Fourteen days of intense scrutiny; every pitch analyzed, every swing studied. Two weeks is all the time Chapman baseball coaches have to determine the new players that will be welcomed to the team – and those they have to cut.
At the end of the first week of tryouts, spanning Sept. 23 to Sept. 28, 11 players were cut from contention. Going into the following week, there were 39 players still competing for a roster spot, with only about 30 total slots available.
Chapman’s 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III championship title last year set a new standard for the baseball program. The Panthers notched 44 victories against 12 losses, winning the Division III College World Series for the second time in the team’s history since 2003. However, six seniors graduated after the final out was recorded last season. As such, the team needed to fill just a few vacant spots on the roster – but come tryouts in late September, head coach Scott Laverty found a wealth of incoming freshmen yearning to make the team.
“We had 50 to start,” Laverty said of the total amount of players that tried out. “Which is a huge number, when you’re thinking about keeping a roster of around 30.”
Due to Division III regulations, Chapman cannot offer athletic scholarships to graduating high school students, so instead they offer a guaranteed place on the roster. This year, 11 freshmen were offered spots. With 22 returning and a roster size of only around 30, this made it nearly impossible for freshmen to prove themselves as walk-ons.
“7.1 percent of high school baseball players will play in an NCAA baseball program. That’s it; it’s simple mathematics,” Laverty said. “There’s 30,000-plus high schools across the country. There’s fewer than 1,000 NCAA baseball programs. There’s just not enough room for everybody.”
Freshman Cameron Brown, a pitcher, was recruited for the team about a year and a half ago, keeping in contact with coaches until he arrived at Chapman. He was invited to try out for the team, but was not guaranteed a roster spot. Eventually, Brown was cut during the tryout period. However, he doesn’t harbor any sort of resentment about not making the team and plans to try out again next season.
“I knew the chances; I knew it was going to be a tough shot,” Brown said.
According to sophomore centerfielder Brad Shimabuku, the overall intensity in tryouts has increased from the previous season – when only eight tried out and all found a spot on the roster. Ultimately, Laverty said he thought the prior season’s championship victory was attracting more interested freshmen, all vying for a shot. That, coupled with an already pressurized environment in tryouts that Shimabuku called “nerve-racking,” could be contributing to an overall sense of competition.
“This year, we have new leaders who are really pushing the freshmen, especially in the weight room, to be really competitive,” Shimabuku said. “It’s good; it pushes the freshmen to become better and it’ll pay off in the end.”