The high school baseball player with a scholarship offer from a major college baseball program has leverage in his back pocket. He can pull out that offer and wave it as if to tell the big league clubs their bonus money offer better be enticing if they draft him Monday because maybe -- just maybe -- he will go to college, not the minor leagues.
In the other back pocket, however, is something that trumps his leverage. A dream.
“We all have dreamed about playing professional baseball since we were seven or eight years old,” said Matthew Grimes, a right-handed pitcher from Mill Creek High and a Georgia Tech signee. “We have been watching guys on TV for a long time and seeing the Roger Clemens and the Jeters. Most of us would not mind playing baseball for a living.”
It is quandary. Follow a dream or secure an education?
The Atlanta area is teeming with high school baseball players who could be selected in Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft and immediately start earning a living as a ballplayer. Nearly all of the players have some scholarship money available from schools like Georgia Tech, Georgia, Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina and Tennessee, among others.
Should they go to school or play baseball? Study hall or bus rides?
“It’s been exciting to be in a position where we can worry about it,” said Lamar Hyde, the father of Calhoun star Mott Hyde, who has signed with Tech. “We’ll see. I think -- I don’t know -- but I think he probably won’t get drafted high enough for him to sign and miss out on Tech. But we hear different things, of course, but I think Tech is probably in his future.
“Having that diploma on his resume will mean a lot in the future. I think he's ready to go play minor league ball now, but we'll see. It's really a no-lose situation."
Alvin Toles, whose son Andrew was a star outfielder for Sandy Creek, said prospects have a lot of issues to consider, but a significant signing bonus, if the player is picked high enough, can erase questions. His son has signed with Tennessee.
“At the end of the day, is it life-changing money that the big league club is offering?” said Toles, a former linebacker at Tennessee whose son is projected to go in the top five rounds. “If I was a parent in this situation, I would ask, is he going to put the bonus money to good use while he plays in the minor leagues? If you got a plan and get the dollar amount you want that can change your life, you look hard at signing with a team.
“Then again, it’s everything to have that scholarship. He would love to play for Tennessee. That’s our home school. He would love to play Major League Baseball, too, but they understand I attended Tennessee.”
Usually, the easy answer for prospects is to follow the money, but how much money would it take? If the signing bonus from big league clubs is significant, why go to college, especially when college baseball programs do not usually offer full scholarships?
By NCAA rule, the college coach has to divide 11.7 scholarships among approximately 25 players. The Hope scholarship in Georgia can help Georgia Tech and Georgia make up the difference between available scholarship money and actual tuition cost. But what about players like Pope’s Will Kendall, who has been offered scholarship money by Auburn, but not a full ride?
“Absolutely [MLB teams] have to hit a money figure with a bonus if they want to sign him,” said Scott Kendall, the father of the Pope pitcher. “While $100,000 sounds like a lot of money, it goes away pretty quickly after taxes.
“A couple of teams we have talked to asked about his signability and the best thing you can do is give them a straight answer. We tell them it depends on the circumstances and the offer and the round and college education. If they said they were going to pay for his education after baseball, it would be hard to turn down.”
The MLB Scholarship Program was put in place in the 1960s to entice players to get started with their professional career right out of high school. Big league clubs can offer a player the same scholarship money a school is offering if the player’s career fizzles after several years in the minors.
Everything is negotiable, however. A player who is going to be drafted high enough might demand the full value of an education at Auburn if his career stalls. That would be about $120,000 for out-of-state tuition.
“It is one thing that separates us from what colleges can offer,” said Frank Wren, the Braves' general manager. “Ours is all-inclusive that can guarantee four years of school and everything associated with that, which is negotiated in the signing contract.
“The only stipulation is they start their education within two years of them finishing playing professional baseball. Also, the college scholarship they get out of high school is year-to-year; the pro contract can cover four years.”
Danny Hall, the Georgia Tech coach, said while it sounds good for a player to be able to go to school if his pro career fails, few actually do go back. He said most players whose career wash out are 25 to 30 years old. They might have a family. They might not want to go back to school for four years.
“Most kids should go to school first and at least get three years in so that if they fail in baseball -- and 98 percent do fail -- now they can come back and get one year of schooling and get their degree and move on,” Hall said. “[Former Tech star] Nomar Garciaparra said to me one time, ‘There is no pressure on me to play Major League Baseball because I went to Georgia Tech for three years. I know that if I fail at baseball or get injured, I know I can go back and in one year I will get my degree and use it to be successful at something.'
“Nomar played with guys from the Dominican Republic or guys signed out of high school and they have to go back to their country or back to their hometown and now they have to figure out what they are going to do. He said to me, ‘That’s pressure."'
Come Monday, the big league personnel and college coaches have different goods to sell. The big league industry can offer full-time instruction while the colleges offer part-time instruction. The big league teams have an array of coaches 24/7 while college coaches wait most of the day to teach their players.
Families have to consider those issues, but Grimes, the Mill Creek pitcher, said he is not going to let the pressure of the decision ruin his day Monday.
“It’s in God’s hands, so I know it’s taken care of,” he said. “I know I will go where I am being led.”