The can’t-miss kid
Juco ball helps McMurray get back on track
There’s no such thing as the can’t-miss kid.
Jason McMurray was close. As a two-sport Iowa high school star, he was the player of the year in both baseball and football.
As a gifted shortstop, Division I was his destiny.
Division I — the term is as hallowed as they come for high school athletes. It’s the ultimate goal. Everyone wants to go to the big time, the big stage, the big school to make and leave their mark.
McMurray went to Notre Dame and started 29 games as a freshman for the Fighting Irish before an injury made him decide to give up the Division I fight — for a year anyway.
Every year, talented kids gobble up Division I scholarships like candy. But is it really the sweetest deal for them?
McMurray learned plenty of lessons this season, his first and last with the Iowa Western Community College Reivers.
“I could not have imagined that my path would have ended up this way but I said it three or four times this week, this was a complete career saver for me,” he said.
For McMurray, the dream of playing Major League Baseball still burns fiery hot.
“No doubt about it, that will never stop,” he said, then smiles. “I’m 21 and that’s old in this business. So I’m a little older, but I feel that the intangibles I bring to the game and the team player that I am, and I do have the tools to make it that level, the sky’s the limit.”
Division I sports, maybe baseball more than any, tend to chew up potential and spit talented athletes out of their programs because they simply aren’t ready or good enough.
It’s too much too soon for many young athletes.
It can also lead to a lost DI scholarship and the end to achieving an academic degree.
Iowa Western and every team at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series has a roster sprinkled with former Division I players who, for whatever reason, decided to start over at the junior college level, like McMurray.
In high school, he was ranked the No. 1 prospect from Iowa, so naturally big schools came calling.
Then he broke his left hand.
“I was hurt my whole sophomore year, and I felt it was just time for me to get a change of scenery,” he said. “It was a baseball decision.”
He said it was probably more humbling to his friends and family.
“For a parent to say your kid goes to Notre Dame, it’s a pretty cool thing,” he said.
What he discovered at Iowa Western was juco ain’t a bad place to play baseball.
“When I came here, it’s a better brand of baseball, I got way better here than I would have ever got there,” the Reivers’ second baseman said. “There’s a bunch of hungry kids on this team. Players here are hungry because they want to go the next level. It created a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and I’ve had a blast.”
For him to regroup, he wanted a program that would make him better and he decided home cooking would be a good thing too.
“It was pretty clear-cut to me, this team sends people to the next level, they get people better and I’m two hours away from my home,” he said.
Reivers coach Marc Rardin has no doubt that the juco level is a much better fit for many young baseball players.
“Most of them aren’t (prepared),” he said about DI.
Some juco players will also be drafted. Yet another reason many choose junior college baseball over Division I.
Rardin, who has brought the Reivers to the JUCO World Series eight times since he took over in 2004, believes kids fresh out of high school who come into junior college programs will have a much better and quicker chance to succeed on the diamond.
In the “90 percent mental” game of baseball, the last thing you want 17-, 18- 19-year-old kids doing is thinking too much. Failure breeds doubt and erodes confidence.
The goal isn’t just to get a DI scholarship, but to keep it and use it to its maximum level.
For most players at this level, there remain two goals: One, to develop the skills to have a shot at Major League Baseball. It’s a long shot but those dreams die hard. The other goal is to let that baseball scholarship help pay for a college education.
All week long we’ve heard about so many junior college players who have parlayed their experience and improvement to into a DI scholarship.
McMurray will be heading to Old Dominion in Virginia next season, unless he gets drafted.
“I get the chance to go play at the Division I level one more time and I’ve put myself in position where I think I’m a commodity in the draft, and we’ll see,” he said.
It’s not the plan he originally had when he left high school, but after a summer in the Jayhawk League, where he led the league in doubles, and a good season with the Reivers, McMurray’s baseball dream is back on track.
He still remembers a thrilling game when Notre Dame beat LSU in front of 12,000 fans when he went 2 for 4.
But Friday night, that memory got buried at the bottom of an Iowa Western dogpile in front of 10,123 fans Friday night as the Reivers celebrated another JUCO World Series championship.
Welcome back to your baseball career, Jason McMurray.
It took him a year to realize that Division I should wait and he needed to hone his skills at a junior college program.
It saved his career. One year at Notre Dame — that was OK. One year at Iowa Western, a JUCO title and one glorious dogpile at Suplizio Field — priceless.