Terps baseball coach has quick success on recruiting trail

As Maryland's fall league starts, Bakich welcomes 22-man incoming class ranked 40th in the country

  • Terps coach Erik Bakich's 2010 recruiting class is ranked 40th in the country by Collegiate Baseball.
Terps coach Erik Bakich's 2010 recruiting class is ranked… (COLBY WARE / SPECIAL TO THE…)
September 23, 2010|By Colin Stevens, The Baltimore Sun

Alex Ramsay grew up just 30 miles away from College Park in Millersville, but the Severna Park star catcher never saw himself playing baseball at Maryland.

The No. 2-ranked player in the state, Ramsay always thought he'd attend college in the South. Miami, the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion, was a possibility. Or maybe he would play in the Southeastern Conference for the Auburn Tigers, who finished in first place last season in the conference's Western Division.

But when Ramsay received his first recruiting call, it was Maryland coach Erik Bakich on the other line.

"He gave me a call at midnight. He gave me a call as soon as he could," Ramsay said. "Once I talked to him, I kind of knew that was the direction that I wanted to go. The mentality that he had and everything that he had set up, I really thought that being with him for three or four years of my college career could really improve myself as a player physically and mentally."

The aggressive recruiting approach seems to have paid early dividends for Bakich and his staff, who signed Ramsay and 21 other prospects in Maryland's 2010 recruiting class — ranked 40th in the country by Collegiate Baseball. The Terps started their fall league Tuesday.

Bakich came to Maryland in June 2009 after spending seven seasons as an assistant at Vanderbilt. The fastest way for Bakich to upgrade the Terps — who finished in the ACC cellar in 2010 — was through recruiting.

"We just wanted to get the best players in the state of Maryland, and the best players in the region and the best players in the country," Bakich said. "In order to win games, we obviously need to catch up with the rest of the talent in our conference. So that was the goal putting this recruiting class together."

While Maryland's 22-man group was rated highly by baseball pundits, it could've been even better. The Terps had six players who signed letters of intent and were later selected in June's MLB draft. Two recruits —— first baseman Tim Kiene, a 30th-round pick of the Washington Nationals, and pitcher Chuck Ghysels, a 36th-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds — have enrolled at Maryland. Four commitments, including New York Yankees first-round pick Chris "Cito" Culver, signed major league deals.

The possibility of having recruits selected in the draft is a risk, but it's a risk schools have to take when trying to build a championship-caliber program — a title Maryland has never held.

"It would have been a huge victory if guys like Culver and [eighth-round draft choice Patrick] Leyland came to school," said Nathan Rode, the assistant editor of high school baseball at BaseballAmerica.com. "But at the same time, it'll pay off in the end because Coach Bakich knows what he's doing because he did what he needed to do to have those guys even consider going to Maryland. Now he needs to get those guys to come to college rather than sign those contracts."

Of the 22 signed recruits, six players come from Maryland.

Kyle Convissar, the No. 1 player in the state and a Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection, finished his senior season at Severna Park hitting .552 while posting a school-record on-base percentage of .711. Convissar also received interest from Louisiana State, North Carolina and Virginia, among others, but the idea of building a program from the ground up was attractive to him.

"I love challenges and trying to prove myself against the best competition," Convissar said. "The whole thing of being the first team to start a strong baseball tradition at Maryland captured my enthusiasm."

Being the foundation for future success was also attractive to Ramsay, another All-Metro player and Convissar's high school teammate.

A left-handed catcher who can also play in the outfield, Ramsay hit .446 during his senior season and finished with eight doubles, four home runs and 33 RBIs. His conversations with Bakich led to his decision to play at Maryland. Now he looks forward to changing the course of Terps baseball history.

"I'm always rooting for the underdogs in all the other games, so it's going to be cool to be a part of one and see if we can turn this thing around," he said.

The two Severna Park graduates will be joined by fellow Maryland prospects Austin Richards, a catcher from Georgetown Prep; junior college transfer Jeff Crosswhite, a right-handed pitcher who graduated from River Hill in 2009; right-hander Mike Boyden, a junior college transfer from Northwest-Shoals (Ala.) Community College who attended high school at La Plata; and Ben Brewster, a left-handed pitcher from the Park School in Baltimore.

Recruiting in Maryland has been a weakness of the program in the past. Severna Park coach Jim McCandless said he never received a recruiting call from Bakich's predecessor, Terry Rupp, in Rupp's nine years on the job. Needless to say, McCandless was surprised when Bakich reached out to him.

"They were very aggressive. They recognized that they had a lot of work to do, and they seem to be bringing in a pretty good recruiting class," McCandless said. "He had done his homework and realized he needs to recruit the state of Maryland heavily to try to become a competitor in the ACC."

Bakich said recruiting the state was one of the top priorities for him and his staff.

"That's where Maryland has been beat in the past. [Maryland] has been beaten with its own players in its own state," he said. "That's something that is no longer acceptable and is no longer going to happen as much as we can control it."

Even though it may not be a quick fix, Rode believes the Maryland program is headed in the right direction.

"It's going to take more than a year," he said. "[Bakich] has the right experience to prove himself, but now it's just wait and see and hopefully it'll all come through for them."

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