When schools went remote and sports halted in spring 2020, Lane Tech pitcher Anthony Scimone worried his chances of playing college baseball might be halted, too — that all his hard work to impress recruiters would go to waste.
Because of coronavirus restrictions, recruiters couldn’t attend games in person, so Scimone had to take matters into his own hands. Along with the rest of the Lane Tech team, he turned to posting on social media (Twitter, specifically), emailing and using free websites such as FieldLevel to showcase his talents. In previous years, paid showcases and travel teams had been expensive; now, more athletes were finding ways to be seen virtually — and at no cost.
“Not playing junior year makes you be more proactive — you have to reach out to more schools yourself, because not a whole lot of interest was coming at me,” said Scimone, now a senior. “I had to go out and send emails to a bunch of schools on my own.”
Many Lane Tech players had no experience using Twitter, including Scimone, who created his account only after schools sent students home last March. He knew a social media presence would be key in making an impression on college teams, so he asked the coaching staff for help. Coach Sean Freeman often posted in the team’s Google Classroom environment with links about effective Twitter handles and examples of effective posts.
“I talk to all of them because they’ve all had different recruiting experiences based on their individual talent levels,” Freeman said. “It’s definitely different for every kid. Some of them have done a really good job emailing and reaching out on their own, which is awesome.”
Student athletes had never experienced recruiting like this before. Seven baseball players from Lane Tech eventually landed college offers. Scimone committed in September to Division III Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the result of a process that started with a few tweets and direct messages.
“I was just trying to pursue my dream and see how long I could play baseball and how far it could take me,” he said. “And it worked out.”
Seven players moving on to play in college is the second-most Freeman has had in his time coaching (the most was eight, two years ago). Most schools Lane Tech’s size usually have only one or two commits a year.
“Credit to the kids, especially at this time,” Freeman said. “Obviously, the NCAA recruiting landscape at all levels has changed a lot because of COVID — it’s definitely been a lot tougher. It just shows you how good they are that they are still able to play at that level despite everything.”
For Illinois commit Ben Plumley, standing out to a Division I school meant dedicating his Twitter account to short videos of his increasing pitching velocity and retweets of his statistics. Ryan Wong, who committed to Division III CalTech, preferred emailing schools with details about his improvements. Three other players also preferred emailing to Twitter: Josh Aguiniga (Concordia University Wisconsin), Will Henson (Lindenwood University) and DeAndre Edwards (walk-on, North Carolina A&T State).
The time off in 2020 allowed Wong to focus on developing areas he previously struggled with, such as his strength.
“Not getting a season sucked, obviously, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be weight-wise,” he said. “I was able to focus on baseball more than I would have if we were in season and playing games. I think it bumped me up to the next level.”
Others similarly used the lost junior season to improve their skills. Pitcher Jace Phelan was able to increase his velocity from the mid-80s to the low-90s — a goal he thinks would have been harder without the time off. He has committed to Division I New Orleans as a walk-on next season.
“I think that time made me realize how much I missed playing baseball,” Phelan said. “I was able to be more productive and get a lot stronger, and now I get to play Division I baseball.”