Ask any kid who grew up playing baseball what his ultimate dream is and he will likely say one answer: Making it to the big leagues.
For a select number of former Belmont baseball players, that dream has become reality.
Since 1962, 32 Bruins have been drafted or signed as free agents by 21 different Major League Baseball organizations.
Twenty-three were selected in their respective drafts, seven were signed as undrafted free agents and two were signed from independent teams.
Some notable Bruins drafted go as far back as the 1960s and 1970s with players such as Jerry Bell in 1969 and Dwight Bernard in 1974 and more recently Austin Coley and Jamie Ritchie in 2014.
“In baseball probably more than any other sport here at Belmont, there is a greater opportunity for kids to go onto the next level,” said current Belmont baseball coach Dave Jarvis. “But that’s not that our kids are better athletes. It’s just simply the nature and structure of professional baseball that allows that to happen.”
Jarvis has coached 19 players who have signed professional baseball contracts. As a father of three sons, he approaches the players considering the draft and their parents from the standpoint of a parent, Jarvis said.
“I try to be honest with them and tell them exactly what I think as what I think would be their best path. It’s not always what’s best for Belmont University’s baseball program. At that point, it becomes what I believe will be best for the student-athlete themselves.”
The path for Belmont players to play professionally can begin in the fall offseason. The Bruins coaching staff, along with those from Lipscomb and Trevecca universities, host a combined scout day for major league teams to have the extra opportunity to see players.
“We do spend some time and effort making sure our kids get exposed and seen by professional scouts. That gives them an initial look and evaluation of our all kids,” said Jarvis.
Once a team scout becomes interested in a player, Jarvis and his coaching staff help the player weigh all the benefits that come with entering the draft. Much of this process depends on the investment teams are putting into the player, Jarvis said.
“If a kid receives six figures or more in signing bonuses, many times we’re telling them we think that is their best opportunity and they should take advantage of that,” he said. “If it’s not that much of an investment, they’re almost better off finishing their degree and having that under their belt.”
After the players are drafted or sign their contracts, many are usually assigned to the lower classes of the baseball farm system, ranging from rookie league to AAA.
While it takes many players several years to work their way up through the system, a few former Bruins have found success at the highest levels in baseball.
Bell was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers–formerly known as the Seattle Pilots–in the second round of the 1969 January amateur draft and became the first Bruin to play in a major league game.
Bernard was another notable Belmont player to make in the majors and spent four seasons with the New York Mets and Brewers. The pitcher recorded an inning for the Brewers in Game 6 of the 1982 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
A more recent success story is Daniel Wagner, who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox during the 16th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After he spent a combined three seasons with the team’s AA affiliate in Birmingham, Ala.,Wagner received the call to report to North Carolina and played three games for the AAA team the Charlotte Knights in 2014.
And the future is bright for Bruins drafted within the past two years as well.
The June 2014 draft saw the highest number of Belmont players selected and signed as free agents.
Coley went in the eighth round to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Greg Brody in the 11th to the San Francisco Giants and Ritchie in the 13th round to the Houston Astros. Former pitcher James Buckelew was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Miami Marlins as well.
In the cases of Coley, Brody and Ritchie, each player decided to forego his final year of NCAA eligibility.
But there have also been cases where Belmont recruits were drafted during their senior year of high school who decided to continue their commitment to the Belmont baseball program.
“Most of those guys fortunately have had the chance to go on and play again after they leave Belmont. So scouts already know about some of our kids because they’re on draft lists and have recognition for that,” Jarvis said.
Being drafted or being signed as an undrafted free agent isn’t the only way Belmont players have made it to the pros. Justin Jordan and Kane Simmons started off in the independent leagues before they were signed by the Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies organizations respectively.
Whether a former Bruin is a draft pick, free agent or independent player, Jarvis contributes part of the success to the player’s time in the Belmont baseball program and the development done by his assistant coaches and training staff.
But when it comes down to the core of it, the credit goes back to the ultimate dream the players had growing up.
“It highlights these kids and how hard they’ve worked. I mean that is the dream of a lot of little boys when they are growing up,” said Jarvis. “So they dedicate a lot of time, effort, sweat, blood and tears.”
“And when it happens, what a wonderful story.”