Washington State University baseball coach Donnie Marbut had a good day on Tuesday. He signed Post 22 standout Tanner Chleborad to pitch for the Cougars, and he went a long way toward solving a big problem that has been nagging at him since the end of last season. Marbut needs pitching, and the Post 22 ace may just be the anchor of his team in a few years.
“We’re definitely excited about Tanner. Next year our pitching is going to be old. Our Friday night pitcher is going to be a senior. Our Sunday pitcher is a senior and our Saturday pitcher is a junior. Our closer is a senior. We need young pitching. Tanner has everything we look for. 6’5”, 180 pounds. He’s got room to grow, and effortless mechanics. He’s going to have to beat out other guys, but we think that when Tanner gets here he can come in and be a good Pac Ten pitcher.”
Wow, Tanner…Pac Ten; UCLA, USC, Stanford, Arizona State, a Major League factory…no pressure there!
Meanwhile, back in Holmes County, Florida a washed-up minor league pitcher and scam artist is sitting in jail awaiting trial and eventual extradition to Rapid City. Jason Anderson will be prosecuted for hustling youth baseball parents out of tens of thousands of dollars last summer by promising to create a program of “select-all-star traveling teams” for young players aged 10 to 18 who he claimed would never “get noticed” by big time college and pro scouts if they were stuck on our lowly community-based Little League and American Legion teams.
It was a big promise. And it was a con. But we worship our children, and self-indulgent fantasies die hard. This winter there is new talk among some Little League parents that a team of “traveling all-stars” may be the best way for their sons to make it to the big time.
So let’s all stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and reflect on the way Tanner Chleborad got to Washington State. We can save ourselves a lot of grief, and a lot of money, if we listen closely to Coach Marbut.
“I wish more people cared about their local American Legion baseball.” He told me Wednesday morning. “If you’re a good player, you’re going to get noticed no matter where you play. Two years ago our top pitcher was from Sitka, Alaska. Now we’ve got a player from Buhl, Idaho. We’ve also got a player from the American Legion program in Missoula, Montana.”
Marbut is very clear. His pitching coach did watch Tanner at “showcase” tournaments in Washington this fall, but they knew about Tanner and monitored his development throughout the summer American Legion season. After the Washington State coaches watched him pitch for the Big Sky all-star team this fall, they went back and checked out his background. The fact that Tanner has come up through a successful American Legion program sealed the deal. “We’re looking for high character. The players who come from American Legion teams know how to compete and win. They play their seasons like every game matters. The kids who play on select teams, you just never know their character.”
Coach Dave Ploof has been cautious to embrace the traveling all-star team approach, and among some baseball parents he has been criticized for holding on to Post 22 too tightly. This is the first post-season when Ploof has encouraged older players like Chleborad and Jake Bohne to play “fall ball” with the Big Sky baseball program. As long as the select team “showcases” don’t conflict with the Post 22 season, Ploof now seems to be fully on board.
Ploof echoes the message from Marbut. “I’ve heard it from a lot of coaches from outstanding universities around the country. They want kids who play community baseball.”
Ploof’s criticism remains focused on players who abandon their summer teams for the so-called all-star teams, or lower their commitment to their teams in order to attend showcase exhibitions. “The NCAA allows baseball coaches only 11.7 scholarships. They have to look for character. Players who just play in showcases or all-star teams don’t learn how to bond, how to work together, how to sacrifice as a team.”
Does all this mean that college or pro-ready players who develop through Rapid City Little League and American Legion don’t need a spotlight as they prepare for college? Absolutely not! They do need exposure. But both Ploof and Marbut argue that the spotlight should come as a supplement to a young man’s participation on a community team, not a substitute for it. “When our season was over, Tanner hooked up with the Montana team (Big Sky Baseball). When he came back from one of the tournaments in Washington, I asked him what he had learned. He said, ‘The competition was outstanding, the same that we play at Post 22.’ The Big Sky experience gave him a lot of confidence.”
Now that Tanner Chleborad has signed with Washington State, the first question I had for Coach Marbut was; “Will you let him pitch for Post 22 this upcoming season? Will you send him somewhere else, or bring him to Washington to start preparing?”
This is not an abstract question. Sam Wolff and Brandon Rainford are arguably the two best pitchers to come out of Rapid City in the last three years, and both sacrificed their senior years with local American Legion teams to pursue select/traveling team baseball. Sam Wolf abandoned Post 22 two years ago to play for a traveling team that he believed would prepare him to play at the University of San Diego. After a year at San Diego, he transferred to a junior college in Nevada. Last summer, after he had signed to pitch at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Brandon Rainford made a half-hearted commitment to Post 320, which finally exploded when he walked out on the team in the middle of a game in Williston, North Dakota.
Marbut didn’t miss a beat. “I want Tanner to play for his American Legion team next summer.”
“Are there things you want him to do that will prepare him to play for Washington State?” I asked.
“Yes. I want him to play for his American Legion team and try to win a World Series. The competition and the pressure he will face as part of his team will help get him ready to join us.”