In 2010, I was a 5’4” freshman in high school with a dream of playing college baseball. I had begun to receive generic letters from various colleges and universities, and began looking into the college baseball recruiting process. At this point, I had already played intense travel ball, and had no intention of stopping. We spent quite a bit of money and time traveling all over the country for tournaments (You don’t have to do this…but more in my emails). My freshman year, I played Junior Varsity (JV) baseball.
It’s worth mentioning that not only did I play JV my freshman year, but I also played on multiple travel teams in middle school and high school where I was the smallest kid on the team, and where I sat the bench most of the time. I played for teams with kids who were bigger, faster, stronger, and older than I was. I was overlooked because of my size and strength, or lack thereof.
My story isn’t one of a baseball phenom…it’s a story of ups and downs, twists and turns, peaks and valleys. It’s a story of a kid who loved baseball, but had to work for every opportunity he got. It’s a story of determination. As you continue reading, notice how many times I hit a low point. Notice how many times I under-performed. Notice how many times people told me I wasn’t good enough. And then notice the successes that followed. You probably have your own trials, your own valleys, your own failures. Just remember, those moments don’t define you. How you respond to them defines you.
In 2011, I was primed and ready to make the Varsity squad. I had worked hard to improve my game and prove my worth. I did, in fact, make the Varsity team, but hit a cool .172 that year. It was a tough year for me, mentally. There were many days where I questioned my ability to play baseball at a division one school. It was easy for me to tell myself, “Dude, you played JV as a freshman, and hit .172 your sophomore year on Varsity. What makes you think you’re good enough to play division one baseball?”
But something deep inside of me knew I was good enough. I continued to work hard day in, and day out. In 2012, my junior year of high school, I had a much better season (all of my stats are online, by the way. Type in “Oaks Christian Baseball Jack Kruger Statistics” if you are THAT interested). At this point, we began the full court press in the recruiting process. We had already been sending out emails and going to showcases, but during my junior year, we hit another gear. The only problem was that we were guessing how to manage the process. We sent out emails with no real agenda or purpose, we went to every showcase in the hopes that even one of them would generate interest, we relied on my travel ball coach way too much, etc.
By the beginning of my senior year, I was still uncommitted, and had very few options. I knew I needed to make an adjustment. I had to find some other way to get into division one baseball. Here is the only good thing I did in my first recruiting process: I targeted academic schools that I knew I could play baseball at. I had good grades, but nothing exceptional. Baseball allowed me to get into schools I otherwise would not have been able to get into. During my senior year, I received a call from the United States Military Academy at West Point. I had no intention of joining the military at the time, but I had so few options that I was willing to entertain any offer.
After looking into West Point, I realized that there were lots of things I really liked about it. It’s a top notch academic school, it’s free, the military is an honorable profession, and I thought the buildings looked cool (not kidding with that last one…google the campus if you’re interested). I had enough interest to warrant a visit. And on that visit, I fell in love.
I met the most amazing people and had an incredible weekend. I started to get a fuller picture of what my life would look like if I attended West Point, and I was all in. The fall of my senior year, I committed to West Point.
The following few months were uneventful, but busy. The West Point application was thorough to say the least, and included an appointment by a senator (that was interesting). I can’t remember when, but I was accepted. My senior year looked promising: I was committed to a school that I was excited about, and my high school team was building a lot of hype for the upcoming season.
Skip to the season…
2013 lived up to the hype. It was a fantastic year. It’s true, I had a statistically good season (again, stats are online). But the best part was that my high school team was filled with a bunch of my senior friends, and we had 7 or 8 division one commits. We ran through the season, ending up 29-3 and winning the CIF Championship (the first in our school’s history).
Remember the kid who was on JV as a freshman? Remember the small kid who rode the bench a lot in travel ball? Remember the kid who hit .172 on Varsity his sophomore year? In a second, I’m going to tell you the awards I won after my senior season in high school. I do this not brag or to make myself feel good, but to show you that it doesn’t matter where you start…it matters where you end. That kid, who struggled so hard in the early years of high school, was…
- Named first-team All-CIF Division 4
- Voted Ventura County Player of the Year
- Voted All-Tri Valley League MVP
- Named NCSAA First-Team All-American
- Named First-Team All-County by the Ventura County Star
- Voted MVP of High School Team
It doesn’t matter where you start…it matters where you end. If you struggle in your early years of high school, don’t fret. It doesn’t mean you can’t play division one baseball. It just means you need a little more work.
Now, that may be the end of my high school career, but if I were writing an essay with sections, I’d label that part the “Introduction.” The next 3 years were absolute chaos.
I reported to military training at West Point on July 1st, 2013. My parents and I flew to New York (from California) and woke up in the dark to be early to my 0600 report time.
We sat down for orientation, which lasted all of 2 minutes before they abruptly said, “You have 90 seconds to say goodbye to your parents.” We said goodbye and marched off into a back room. I have enormous respect for our military. But I must say, what went down in that back room was…hilarious. Total chaos ensued. The military leaders began yelling and screaming at candidates for every little thing you can think of. Here’s why I thought it was funny…
The kid in front of me had a shoelace untied. An officer came up to his face and started screaming, “WHY IS YOUR SHOELACE UNTIED?! YOU THINK YOU CAN RUN WITH AN UNTIED SHOELACE? TIE YOUR SHOELACE RIGHT NOW!”
The kid bent over immediately and began tying his shoelace. At this instance, another officer came up to him and yelled, “CANDIDATE! WHY ARE YOU BENT OVER?! STAND UP STRAIGHT! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”
The kid left the shoelace untied and stood up straight. At that moment, the other officer came back and resumed the yelling. “CANDIDATE! YOUR SHOELACE IS STILL UNTIED! I TOLD YOU TO TIE IT. ARE YOU DIRECTLY DISOBEYING MY ORDERS?!” And I think you know what’s coming next…
The other officer came back and told the kid to stand up straight, again. This poor kid must have bent down and stood up 6 times before they actually let him tie his shoelace, and move on with life. It took everything in me to not laugh out loud. Thank God, I didn’t.
The next couple hours were standard procedure. We went through dozens of stations, including measurements of arms, legs, etc., being issued our uniforms, and a bus ride of some sort that I can’t really remember.
One of these stations was a medical check. Now, I’m going to save you the details because they’re not interesting, but they are aggravating…so I’ll leave it at this:
On July 1, 2013, I was medically disqualified for a hip impingement. We had already sent in a waiver months in advance, and was approved by West Point before I even showed up on campus. Okay, hear me out…I believe in taking ownership for my mistakes. Most of the time, when something goes wrong or not according to plan, I usually have something to do with it. But in this case, I must tell the truth…there was nothing we could have done differently. We just got screwed.
That day, we left West Point with broken hearts, angry minds, hungry bellies, and I now had no college to attend in 2 months when the fall semester starts. We were crushed.
We went to dinner that night, and jumped into action mode. Where was I going to go to college? Did any teams have spots open?
We made multiple calls to my travel ball coaches and even some college coaches, doing everything we could to get my name out there and tell college coaches I was available. And somehow (I’d say God) I received a scholarship offer from the University from Oregon about 2 hours after I got medically disqualified from West Point.
Here’s the crazy part…I hadn’t even talked to Oregon during my recruiting process! I went to one of their camps, but nothing ever came of it. No phone call, no offer, no nothing. And out of the blue, here they were offering me a scholarship. It goes to show that it’s never too late to begin the recruiting process (but more on this in my emails).
Four days later I visited Oregon, and five days later I committed. I was going to be a Duck.
Oregon was filled with lots of ups and downs. I won the starting catcher spot, but started the year 0-17 and eventually lost the job. At the same time, I was still processing the West Point incident and figuring out what I wanted in life. I was adjusting to life away from home, and working on making new friends.
The summer after my freshman year at Oregon, we received a call from one of my coaches. He informed us that they were pulling my scholarship. We were upset and angry, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. That fall, the coaches published a depth chart. In one year, I went from a starting freshman to 4th on the depth chart. This, and many other factors, led me to a bold decision. After a year and a half at Oregon, I decided to transfer to a junior college.
I met some amazing people at Oregon that I’m still friends with today, but it was not a good fit for me and my opportunity to play was mostly gone. It goes to show that just because you go to a division one school with a good baseball program and really cool gear doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to like it (but more in this in my emails, as well). My freshman year, I hit .208 with 1 homerun at Oregon. My sophomore fall, I was 4th on the depth chart as a catcher.
Remember when I played JV baseball as a freshman and hit .172 my sophomore year? All of my doubts and uncertainties that I felt then were coming back to me at this point. Was I really good enough to play division one baseball? It didn’t seem like it.
But something still told me I was good enough. I knew there were some adjustments that had to be made, but I also knew that my potential had not been actualized. I took the risk…I bet on myself…I went to junior college.
We checked out a few different junior colleges, but ultimately landed at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Here’s a blunt truth…I never thought I would go to junior college. I just didn’t. It never even occurred to me that it might be a possibility in my life. And yet, it was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
My dad and I knew we had to change our recruiting gameplan from my high school days. We were shooting blind before, and there’s no room for that this time. I had one chance, and one chance only to make this happen. We started asking, “If I were a college coach, how could players make the recruiting process easier for me?” This led us to the formation of the strategy that made my recruiting campaign wildly successful (the same one I’m going to share with you).
We didn’t wait for the season to start…we began emailing schools right away. In future emails, I’ll share our tips and strategies and even word for word email scripts, but for now, I’ll just say that things began to take off immediately…
…before I had swung a bat at junior college…coming off of a .208 with 1 homerun season at Oregon…and being 4th on the depth chart during the fall of my sophomore year…no one can say I received the interest I did because of my “past performance.”
That spring, I received multiple phone calls a week from new colleges. It was difficult to keep track of who I had talked to and when. I never dreamed it would go as well as it did. I couldn’t believe I was talking to schools like Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi State, Baylor, USC, and more. I was just a kid who was 4th on the depth chart at the University of Oregon 3 months before that.
In the end, I narrowed it down to three schools to take visits to. I chose one school that was primarily academic (UCONN), one school that had an amazing baseball program (Mississippi State), and one school that was an even mix of both (Baylor). Long story short, I chose Mississippi State, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.
In 2016, I was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 20th round. It’s 2020, and I’m still playing professional baseball in the Angels organization. If you’re reading this story and thinking, “I’m not sure if I’m good enough to play college or professional baseball,” remember this…
- I was the kid who played JV baseball as a freshman.
- I was the kid who hit .172 on varsity my sophomore year.
- I was the kid who struggled to get division one baseball offers in high school.
- I was the kid who hit .208 with 1 homerun at the University of Oregon my freshman year.
- I was the kid who was 4th on the depth chart at catcher at the U of O my sophomore year.
- I was the kid who lost his scholarship.
- I was the kid who played junior college baseball.
When people think of a professional baseball player, they don’t think of these things. But with hard work, an intentional strategy, and God on my side, these tough times built me into who I am today. I want to share my system with you because I know it can change your life. It can give you opportunities you never dreamed you would actually be able to see through.
If you want to hear more about how I went from the 5’4” JV freshman to playing in the Pac-12 and SEC, join my email list.
VERY IMPORTANT: When you sign up, I’m gonna send you an email to say hi. If you don’t see that email in your inbox, check your spam/junk/promotions folder and dig it outta there!