Opening Day 2016

On a warm, breezy day at Mike Carter Field, Tyler Junior College opened its season with a pair of wins over Centenary College’s JV squad Saturday. The Apaches won by scores of 13-0 and 10-5.

In game one, starter Jonathan Groff and reliever Weston Smart combined to throw a two-hitter with seven strikeouts. The Apaches took advantage of the Gents four errors plating two runners in the first and third innings. But TJC broke the game open in the fourth batting through the lineup with highlights from Jordan Trahan and Mason Mallard who both hit towering home runs. Trahan’s sailed over the centerfield fence at about 370 feet while Mallard’s went past left field about 330 feet. The two combined for four RBIs in the six-run inning. The Apaches came away with the game winning 13-0 to start its season.

Game two was rough for TJC at the start. Centenary jumped ahead early and led 4-1 going through two innings. However, the Gents would only score one more run in the game as the Apaches plugged away. TJC scored two in the third to pull within one but it was the fifth inning where the game was blown wide open. A collection of errors, wild pitches, and passed balls along with well-placed hits and walks led to 12 batters stepping into the box for TJC. The Apaches scored six runs in the inning and every player scored a run during game two. TJC took and held the lead winning 10-5.

Here are some shots from today’s games:

DSC00900

TJC Starter Jonathan Groff

DSC00907.jpg

TJC Starter Jonathan Groff

DSC00928

Third baseman Jarrod Wells

DSC00974

Second baseman Colton Whitehouse

DSC01014

Catcher Bretten Schwaab

DSC01070

Jarred Wells dives back to first

DSC01115

First baseman Nathan Methvin

DSC01116

Turf beads went flying

DSC01140

Game two starter AJ Merkel

DSC01274

Merkel tries to pick the runner off first

DSC01281

Reliever Ryan Cheatham came in during the second inning

DSC01303

Right fielder Jace Campbell makes contact

Prospect Helping Prospects: Part I

Nolan Ryan once said that one of the beautiful things about baseball is that, every once in awhile, you come across a situation where you have to reach down and prove something. That’s exactly what former Baltimore Orioles prospect and Luce Prospect Group Founder/CEO Jake Luce has done throughout his baseball and professional careers.

Luce (pronounced Loo-chee) took a unique path to and through professional baseball, including turning down offers to play other collegiate sports.

“Believe it or not, I received more attention to play college football than I did college baseball,” Luce said. “In Texas, football is King. I was Allen High School’s kicker my sophomore year, and the only reason I kicked was because I wasn’t gifted physically enough to play any other position. So I stuck with it, and taught myself. I could’ve kicked in college, but baseball has always been my first love.”

Luce evaluated his options before deciding to sign a full-ride scholarship to play for Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. Yes, the same Blinn College that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went to before transferring to Auburn.

“He must’ve wanted to follow in my footsteps,” Luce joked. “But in college recruiting the numbers are staggering. On average, seniors graduating college start their careers with an average debt-load of over $30,000. I educated myself so I could learn the facts at a young age.” Luce said. “I transferred to Jefferson College (in St Louis) after Blinn because I medically redshirted, and ultimately decided JeffCo was where I wanted to be.”

Luce and his younger brother Jackson both played for former JeffCo head coach Sam Carel on full-ride baseball scholarships. Luce’s other brother, Justice, is a currently a wide receiver at Texas A&M-Commerce. Sam Carel is now the head baseball coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

“He’s honestly the best coach I ever played for,” Luce said. “Coach Carel and the entire JeffCo staff are close friends of mine to this day.”

Luce was part of the Jefferson College team that won back-to-back conference titles in 2009 and 2010. Luce hit a combined .349 in his two years at JeffCo. After receiving a scholarship offer from Elon University, a private, Division I program in North Carolina, he helped the Phoenix celebrate a Southern Conference Championship by leading the team in doubles as the starting left-fielder.

After all was said and done, Luce graduated from Elon in 2012 and signed as free agent with the Amarillo Sox, an independent team in the American Association.

“The route I took to eventually sign with Baltimore is a story in and of itself,” Luce said. “Looking back on it, I think I had to be a bit crazy in order to go through what I did. But that’s how life is; sometimes you have to put your ‘big-boy’ pants on and go after what makes you happy. So I did.”

Luce spent the next couple of seasons playing for various teams in independent ball. He was a key part of the 2014 Wichita Wingnuts, who went 79-28 and captured the American Association Championship after losing in the championship series the previous two seasons.

During his time with the team, Luce hit .341 and slugged .480. His strong numbers attracted the attention of several big league teams, including the Tigers, Reds, Dodgers, and Orioles. In a more in-depth article by 27Outsbaseball.com writer Chris Phillips (@HardballFarm), several scouts commented about Luce and his tenacity for the game.

Orv Franchuk, a former scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers said Luce has a lot of heart and is “a kid that just wins.” Chris Carminucci of the Arizona Diamondbacks said Luce “attacks the game every day and plays like he’s on a mission.” But after the dust settled, it was ultimately Ryan Powell, a scout with the Baltimore Orioles, that gave Luce his shot.

On January 13, 2015, Luce signed with the Orioles and set out to Sarasota, FL for Spring Training, Luce received only a limited amount of live at-bats, and before the Orioles broke camp, Luce was released. He hit .571.

Luce then returned to independent ball. He played for the Florence Freedom (Frontier League), before he was traded to the Atlantic League to the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish, then to the Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers, and finally back to the American Association, where he signed with the Sioux Falls Canaries-this all happened in same calendar year.

In late July, Luce’s career took a turn for the worse when he was hit in the side of the head with a 94 mph fastball. “I was knocked out,” Luce said. “The ironic thing is that I was hit while playing in a game against the Amarillo Sox. That’s where I started my professional career and, as of now, where I’ve ended it.” Despite the season-ending injury, Luce currently has offers and opportunities to continue his playing career in 2016. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” Luce said. “I’m asked that question all the time, but right now my purpose is to help as many high school athletes and their parents with the college recruiting process. I’m just taking it one day at a time, as I’m looking forward to see what the future holds.”

After returning home to Dallas, TX in July of 2015, Luce started focusing on the company he started in early 2014: The Luce Prospect Group. Luce has not only garnered major respect in the baseball world as a player, but now looks to prove himself as a business owner and become the Thought Leader on college recruiting. We will discuss all this and more in Part II of this story. You can also visit them on their mobile site at www.luceprospectgroup.com/?

Living With Possible CTE

Over the holiday weekend, I watched movies with my family. As we scanned the list of movies in theaters, I spotted Concussion starring Will Smith. I was interested because it’s a subject I’ve been following for several years now. Why? There’s a good chance I might have CTE after suffering from concussions playing softball in high school.

I started playing baseball when I was five years old and switched to softball when I was ten. I loved the game and always wanted to keep playing. I joined a tournament team and played on my high school’s varsity squad all four years. I had the normal bumps, bruises, scrapes, and strawberries but during my freshman year of high school, things changed.

In Texas, high school football is king so you can guess where most of my school’s sports budget went. The softball team was probably the least funded sport. Our storage shed was a small trailer on wheels that used to be a mobile concession stand. All of the equipment was used and old. I was surprised some of it passed the umpire’s inspection before every game. The equipment was left there until spring and there was evidence that rats had taken up residence in the set of old batting helmets that had no face masks, chin straps, and sparse padding. (This was before those softball regulations were mandatory.) We got by with what we had but the lack of funding to even get decent helmets led to the two concussions which pretty much changed my life.

March 2005. Our softball team traveled to a school an hour away to play a non-district game. It was the third inning and I had bunted my way onto first base. I looked across the field at my coach who gave me the sign to steal. I took off on the pitch. The catcher made a bad throw to my side of the bag which sent the 200+ pound shortstop directly into my path. While attempting to maneuver around her and slide into second base, we collided. I slid under her hitting my head on the ground. My head bounced back up and the helmet came off before the shortstop landed directly on top of my head slamming it into the ground. I went dark, completely knocked out. That’s all I remember from that night.

From what my family told me, I was out for a minute. There were no trainers there to check on me. I didn’t want to come out and apparently played the rest of the game. I couldn’t even tell you if we won or lost. After the game, I laid down in the back of my mom’s SUV and we drove to the emergency room. They ran all sorts of tests but said the brain looked fine. They diagnosed me with whiplash and a concussion and said I could start playing again after sitting out for two weeks.

Two weeks later, I was playing in a game and in my first at-bat the pitcher nailed me in the helmet at the crease right above my right eye. I thought I felt something running down my face. I took the helmet off and bent over to see blood dripping. There was no padding in that part of the helmet. The plastic had cut through the skin down to the bone above my eye. The trainers had not arrived at the game yet so my mom took charge. She got me into her SUV and we went to the emergency room for the second time that season. This time I was given ten stitches that held three layers of skin together and was diagnosed with another concussion. I was sore and the back of my head hurt but I thought nothing of it. You hear concussion and see CT scans that come back normal and think you’re perfectly fine. My symptoms didn’t hit until six months later.

September 2005. I woke up with the worst headache I’ve ever had and the occipital lobe, where I had hit the back of my head in March, felt like it was on fire. My doctor thought it was a sinus infection. After a few weeks without that medication working, I was sent to another doctor to get Botox injections in the back of my head to try to cure the condition. That didn’t work either and the doctor accused me of faking the condition and that I was just a hormonal teenage girl. I loved school and was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. By this time several months had passed. I was referred to a pediatric neurologist in Dallas. They did new CT scans and MRIs and came back with stunning results. They found little white spots all over my brain where the brain cells had died due to lack of oxygen. The neurologist didn’t know what it was and took the scans to a national neurology conference. Nobody knew what this was and they all thought it was the brain of a 70-year-old, not a 16-year-old.

January 2007. After going through various tests over the course of almost two years, doctors sent me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It’s a research hospital with some of the best doctors in the country. I was there for two weeks when they finally diagnosed me with a rare autoimmune disorder called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTS for short. It means the blood rushes to my hands and feet when I sit or stand upright which means blood isn’t going to the brain and causes brain cells to die. I asked them why the disease hadn’t presented itself earlier and they told me it’s usually only triggered by some kind of blunt force trauma like my softball concussions.

Since then, I’ve been able to get the autoimmune disorder under control but my head has never fully healed since that first concussion ten years ago. To this day the right side of my head is sensitive and I can’t lay down on it for too long or wear hats that fit too snug. I can feel the differences in air pressure in the back of my head including going up and down in elevators. But the most disconcerting thing for me is I’ve lost a lot of memories. My family tells me stories about what I was like then and shows me pictures but I remember very little before high school. It makes you feel stupid to have someone come up to you when they know you and you have no idea who they are.

I thought it was just the autoimmune disorder causing all of these issues until a few years ago when I saw the PBS documentary League Of Denial. It freaked me out because a lot of it sounded really familiar and I’ve followed the subject matter ever since. It’s interesting to speculate that it’s possible I have CTE but I will never know for certain because it is still a condition that can only be diagnosed after death.

I still love sports. I still love softball despite everything that has happened to me in connection to those two concussions. However, I would be wary of the risks. People think CTE only happens in football but concussions do happen in other sports like softball and baseball. But if you love the sport you play and know all of this going into it, go after it. You can learn a lot about life through sports and make many wonderful memories…..even if you can’t remember them ten years later.