During the rare occasions when he has actually been in Kerrville this summer, Tivy senior Colten Drake keeps a crammed suitcase on his couch.
His Antler teammate, Stoney Rhodes, just leaves his travel bag in the car. On the other hand, their senior cohort Cole Miears doesn’t even know the location of his suitcase, joking that he has someone handle his travel arraingements (His mother, Robin Miears, later confirmed she stores it in the closet).
None of them have had the opportunity to unpack their luggage this summer (except to do laundry); they’ve been too busy traveling across the country to play baseball. During the last seven weeks, They’ve participated in four select ball tournaments, playing games in Dallas, Atlanta and College Station.
“We have stayed in a hotel more than our house this summer,” Cole said.
“I have been home six days this summer,” added Drake, chuckling.
The good news: they have all performed well during these tournaments. Cole leads his select travel team, the 17U South Texas Sliders, in on-base plus slugging percentage (.990) has the second-highest batting average (.342) and is tied for the most extra-base hits (nine). His Sliders comrade, Rhodes, is hitting .271. Drake, who plays for a different 17U South Texas Sliders team, is batting .310 with five extra-base hits. Their Tivy teammate, Junior Coleson Abel (who wasn’t available for Monday’s interview) recently clobbered his first home run using a wood bat while playing for the Lone Star Baseball Club and tossed six hitless innings in another game.
There’s just one snag, though: baseball isn’t their only priority this summer. There are five Tivy baseball players (Jack Patterson, Abel, Miears, Drake and Rhodes) currently on select travel teams who are also expected to start for the Antlers’ football team this fall. Summer is a critical season for these players, a time when they condition their bodies to meet the demands of a football season.
In other words, none of them can neglect their football responsibilities this summer, even if they have spent the last two months away from Kerrville visiting different baseball diamonds.
“None of us coaches view (their travel schedule) as a problem,” Tivy football coach David Jones said. “Our baseball guys always travel in the summer, and we know that going in. We have a certain number of days we want them to work out. We try to limit the time they have to spend up here (in the field house) as much as possible. But we have to have them healthy and ready to go in August.”
And his football-slash-baseball players recognize that, too. Due to their travel schedule, they can’t always attend Tivy’s summer strength and conditioning camp, so they find time to work out on their own. Miears, the Antlers’ returning starting quarterback, regularly meets with personal trainer Kris Koether, and when he didn’t have to travel to a tournament during the Fourth of July weekend, he arrived at Antler Stadium early in the morning to toss the football with senior receiver Brooks McCoy. Miears admits that juggling travel ball with off-season training can be difficult, but he isn’t complaining. After all, he and his teammates are simply the latest Tivy athletes to excel at both football and baseball (Rody Barker, Tres White, Kyle Yates and Hutch White are a few players who come to mind).
“It’s a full schedule for those guys — they are working hard,” said Tivy baseball coach Chris Russ, who played both football and baseball when he attended Tivy. “I tell my (baseball players), ‘When you play baseball, you don’t get summer and spring break. That’s just part of it. If you want to go on vacation,
you have to take it on Christmas break.’”
His players’ busy schedules also reflect how much the select ball scene has changed since Russ played at Tivy. Russ played for the Kerrville Cats, a team that mostly played in tournaments in San Antonio and Austin. He didn’t have many other options. Now, 20 years later, there are 396 travel baseball teams in Texas that travel across America for tournaments.
“We never went to out of state tournaments,” Russ said. “It’s just different back then than it is now — the whole select ball scene has really grown a lot in the last 10 to 15 years. It’s a whole different landscape.”
But it’s a landscape that players have to navigate if they want to play at the next level. On Monday, Miears, Drake and Rhodes all said they hope to play college baseball. That’s why they are working so hard the summer before their senior year. Baseball scouts rarely attend high school games nowadays, opting instead to attend select travel ball tournaments. They know that a good showing during one of these tournaments is a good way to attract the interest of a college coaching staff.
But on Monday, they didn’t seem too concerned about college. Miears had lunch with Barker during his tournament in college Station. Barker, who now plays at Texas A&M, advised him not to stress about where he will play in college — he still has plenty of time to make that decision. After all, Miears and his friends only have one year left at Tivy and only one more football season, might as well try to enjoy every minute of it.
That’s what they did on Monday. Miears, Drake and Rhodes attended Tivy SAC camp early in the morning, cracking jokes with their teammates. When it had ended, Miears and Rhodes pointed their car in the direction of Joplin, Missouri, on their way to another tournament. (Drake started a 10-hour drive to Albuquerque).
“They are going to play vital roles for our football team,” Jones said. “We are happy for them, excited for them because they are having success on the baseball field. … They do a great job with both sports.”