By Dan Hiner
Imagine being a high school baseball recruit — receiving letters for scholarships, attending meetings with coaches and visiting colleges to try to find out which program is best for you.
If the Youngstown State University baseball team was recruiting you, then you would have crossed paths with recruiting coordinator Jason Neal.
Neal, who is also the assistant coach, joined the program back in 2013 when head coach Steve Gillispie took over the program.
The YSU baseball team has focused its recruiting out west during the past couple years. No one from the coaching staff is from around this area. Neal said that the coaching staff tried to stay in areas where they recruited in the past.
“In the first class, maybe class and a half, we stuck to the areas that we knew and that we were strong until we knew the lay of the land,” Neal said. “As far as any kind of challenges with the local guys, I think a lot of it is about changing the perception with Youngstown State and YSU baseball.”
The baseball team currently has eight players on the team from California. Neal attributes the team’s ability to recruit to the team’s up-to-date facilities and the lack of programs on the west coast.
“From our experience, it hasn’t been difficult,” he said. “A lot of times, there are so many players out there and not enough Division I schools — there’s a lack of opportunity. So, if they see an opportunity to come out here and compete at the highest level, they’re all for it. Players want nice facilities, we got great facilities in Eastwood Field and the WATTS. They want to be able to play in a nice facility and a nice area and that’s something we could give them.”
While the team has focused out of state in previous years, the program will start to recruit local players. Now that the coaching staff has started to form contacts in the Mahoning Valley, the Penguins will try to build a fence around the local high schools.
“We’re trying to take care of our backyard,” Neal said. “If there is somebody in the area who we feel can help us win a championship and take the program to the next level, we will absolutely do whatever we can to keep them here. We have nine guys either signed or committed right now, and six of them are from the state of Ohio or western PA.”
Neal, along with the rest of the coaching staff, has put an emphasis on building a connection with the community and changing the perception of the program. With the help of youth camps and appearances at local ballparks like Cene Park, the coaches hope the program will attract young players to the program at a young age.
“We want young men that want to grow up and play at YSU,” he said. “We want them to come to school here and know everything the school has to offer. That is one of the reasons we started the youth camps a lot — starting at a young age and getting the parents and kids excited about kind of what we’re doing, reaching out and being seen in the community. We want them to be excited about possibly being able to play at YSU.”