Journey to CMU an unusual one for Delay, Wilson
For all the effort Colorado Mesa’s baseball coaches put into recruiting, trying to find great players, sometimes it’s the players who find them.
The Mavericks landed two starting pitchers with draft potential this year without knowing about them until they contacted the Mavs’ coaches.
Matt Delay and Nevin Wilson found Mesa last summer.
“I’ll tell you what, nine times out of 10, kids that find us end up being good players for us,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “You don’t have to coax them, beg them or plead for them to come to your school. You don’t get caught in negotiation with the kid or family over scholarship money. They just want to play and get an education.
“When they find us, it’s usually a scenario where they’ve had some tough luck. College athletics in general have a way of bloodying a kid mentally. It’s tough. That’s what high school kids don’t understand.”
Delay returned to baseball one year ago after not playing for three years. Wilson transferred from Division I Vanderbilt after not seeing much time on the mound.
They are a combined 5-1 in 10 starts for the 22nd-ranked Mavericks (21-6).
“It’s surreal,” Delay said. “To know when I (wasn’t playing baseball), I wasn’t quite following my dream. I love being out here. It brings a smile to my face. After three years of wishing I was here, I’m back on a baseball field, and I’m not going to take it for granted this time.”
Delay, 23, grew up Boca Raton, Fla., in a baseball city. He threw a no-hitter in a high school district playoff game, but the 2009 high school graduate thought he’d be highly recruited by major NCAA Division I programs in Florida.
Instead, he was only getting scholarship offers from Division II programs and one Division I program in New Jersey.
“I was an 18-year-old kid,” Delay said. “I thought I was a stud. I wanted to go to FSU, Miami. I wanted to be a big-time player.
“I was in position to do pretty well, if I was just a little more humble.”
One year after he graduated high school, Delay decided to enroll and walk on at Division I North Florida, but he dropped a class the day before a tryout, putting him below the minimum credit hours to be a full-time student, and said he wasn’t allowed to try out.
“I thought that was the end of my career,” Delay said.
He started working at a local restaurant.
In 2012, he was watching a Major League Baseball game and saw some familiar faces, such as former high school opponent Eric Hosmer, now with the Kansas City Royals.
“A lot of people I played in high school are in the pros now,” Delay said. “I was watching (baseball) on TV, wishing I was doing it. I realized one year I could, and made it happen.”
Delay singled out Chicago White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto and Hosmer. Both played at a rival high school. Delay struck them out back-to-back in a summer-league game.
Another of Delay’s high school rivals, Deven Marrero, is one of the top prospects of the Boston Red Sox. Marrero graduated in 2009 and is starting the season at Double-A Portland (Maine).
“That’s what made me miss it, watching guys I played with on TV,” Delay said. “I was 21 when I decided to do this after three years of just working and going to school in North Florida.”
Delay bought a bicycle and started riding it 20 to 25 miles per day. He lost 50 pounds and found a tryout. The College of Central Florida gave him an opportunity, and he took advantage of it. In his best start, he struck out nine batters and walked one in eight innings.
“I knew a scout, and he said if it’s going to happen, it’s got to be (that) year,” he said. “When you really want something to happen, you dedicate all your energy to it and make it happen.
“If I hadn’t taken this weird route, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
Delay found an open tryout with the Atlanta Braves in Myrtle Beach, Fla. He hit 92 mph on the radar gun at the Braves tryout and realized he had a future in the game. Delay did an Internet search of Top 25 Division II programs and found Colorado Mesa.
Delay and a friend drove to Grand Junction as part of a cross-country road trip.
“We talked two or three times,” CMU assistant coach Sean McKinney said. “We try to leave no stone unturned. We try to shake the tree and find as many guys as we can. Our whole coaching staff tries to answer all those phone calls, because you never know what you might find.”
Delay, a junior right-hander, still has hopes of getting drafted and playing in the big leagues, but he is focused on enjoying playing the game at a competitive level again.
“At some point, Matt Delay got a dose of reality of real life, working every day, and decided if I’m going to play baseball, I’ve got to do it now,” Hanks said. “He’s incredibly enthusiastic, almost to a fault. He’s got a childlike approach to the game, which I appreciate.
“I don’t think all our players understand it, but what some of our players don’t understand is Matt has had the benefit of seeing a different side of things and really appreciates this opportunity.”
Wilson grew up in Orlando, Fla., and dreamed of playing in the NBA as a boy.
“Basketball was my first love,” Wilson said. “One day, our basketball season ended. The next day, we had a baseball game with a bunch of scouts. I pitched and threw decently. It blew up after that.
“It’s been a ride ever since.”
Wilson, who didn’t pitch until his junior year of high school, started getting Division I scholarship offers despite his family moving to Phoenix for his dad’s work.
He was drafted out of high school in the 44th round in 2011, but chose to go to Vanderbilt.
Wilson never really got an opportunity at Vanderbilt and along with his parents, he decided to look at other opportunities.
The junior left-hander was playing in a collegiate summer league in New Hampshire, so his mother started looking at programs out west.
“If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be here,” Wilson said. “She took it to heart, too. She felt bad for me.”
Three weeks before classes started, Wilson decided on Colorado Mesa and enrolled in fall-semester classes.
“It had to be hard for Coach Hanks to fit in one more guy,” Wilson said. “It was hard on my family not knowing where I was going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be in college that semester.”
Like Delay, Wilson is happy to be at Colorado Mesa.
“Some of these kids go out, and it’s tougher than they thought, but they’ve got some talent,” Hanks said. “For whatever reason they bounce, then they come to your program, and it’s almost a new lease on life.
“Their perspective has been changed. They are rarely spoiled. They don’t come in acting like they are owed anything.”