Posted: July 17, 2012
By PAUL MONTANA
Daily News Record
HARRISONBURG – As a senior at Noblesville High School in Anderson, Ind., Jake Roberts took a cooking class just for fun. He had already committed to play Division I baseball, so why not?
As it turned out, there was a good reason why not: The cooking class cost him his eligibility to play Division I baseball.
Roberts said he wasn’t aware he was one “core class” – meaning English, science, math or social studies — short of meeting the academic requirements established by the NCAA to compete in Division I athletics. If he had simply taken a core course instead of cooking, he would have been home free.
But he wasn’t warned of the requirement when he signed up for the cooking class, he said. He didn’t find out until near the end of his senior year – six months after he had signed a letter of intent to play baseball for Dayton.
Roberts said he tried to take a core course over the summer, but said it was rejected by the NCAA. So instead of playing at Dayton on nearly a full scholarship just two hours from his hometown, Roberts instead had to scramble for a spot at Gulf Coast State, a junior college in Panama City, Fla., 14 hours from home.
“It broke my heart,” said Roberts, now a junior at Division II St. Joseph’s College who’s playing for the Harrisonburg Turks this summer. “I was the first person to commit from the state of Indiana for college. I was pumped, man. But that’s how it goes.”
Larry Roberts said his son even had pro scouts on him in high school. Big-league college programs also apparently were interested. Before settling on Dayton, Roberts was recruited by schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten.
It took awhile, but Roberts has slowly climbed back to the four-year college scene – albeit only in Division II.
He played for one year at Gulf Coast State, then left there for John A. Logan College, another JUCO, in Carterville, Ill., to be a little closer to home. He still hoped a Division I school was in his future – maybe even Dayton – but Roberts said his grades held him back.
He finally landed at a four-year college: St. Joseph’s, a D-II school in Rensselaer, Ind., only a few hours from his hometown. It wasn’t quite ideal, but Roberts said he’s found a home there.
And to Roberts, it was a humorous destination. In a local showcase event when Roberts was in high school, St. Joseph’s coach Rick O’Dette didn’t bother coming because “St. Joe’s wasn’t anywhere close to my radar,” Roberts said.
“We joke around and mess with each other now how I ended up there,” Roberts said.
As you might imagine for a Division I recruit at a Division II school, Roberts was quite the addition.
The Pumas’ third baseman was second on the team with a .301 batting average – trailing only Eric Mason, who also is playing for the Turks this summer – and led the team by wide margins in both on-base percentage (.413) and slugging (.458).
And now with the Turks, Roberts, listed at 6 feet, 190 pounds, considers the Valley Baseball League to be a proving ground. Playing with and against Division I talent, Roberts is fourth on the team in average (.303), second in slugging (.459) and tied for first in home runs (4). Also a right-handed pitcher, Roberts has thrown two scoreless innings for Harrisonburg.
He was one of six Turks selected to the VBL All-Star Game, a validation that he’s no ordinary Division II player.
“I wouldn’t tell those guys to their face, but I’ve got to prove it to myself, you know?” Roberts said. “I know I can run with those guys. I’m going to show them what I have to offer.”
There’s no question that missing out on the scholarship to Dayton has impaired Roberts’ baseball prospects. Once a pro prospect in high school, Roberts said he’d like to be drafted, but recognizes that he’s too slow and strikes out too much. And as a pitcher, he’s still yet to prove himself – he’s never thrown an inning during the college season, though he plans to as a senior at St. Joseph’s.
“I’m not a very big third baseman, not real fast – it’s not a bright future for guys like me,” Roberts said with a laugh.
He might yet prove himself wrong.