Ask a professional scout or a D1 recruiting coordinator what they are looking for in a player, and the answer starts with, “6-2+, 185 lbs.+, long and lean frame.” Oh sure, you can have them get around that with skill sets that include 92 MPH velocity, 6.6 60 times or the propensity to hit the ball 450 feet. All of the measurables are sought, projected and discussed to exhaustion in draft rooms and coaches offices on a daily basis. The great thing about baseball is that the “immeasurables” contribute to results on the field as much or more as the previous talked about things. They don’t show up on a recruiting profile. They don’t show up in a box score. But they show up on the baseball field and have a dramatic impact on the results of every baseball game played. You never know when you are going to run into a baseball player. Two days stick in my mind that I was in the presence of true baseball players and was completely oblivious to it.
In December of 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting a 5’8” 150-pound young man from Melissa, Texas. It was obvious that this was a quality kid. Mature beyond his years, confident and well spoken. Through conversation, I learned that he had signed a letter of intent to play at Dallas Baptist — Camden Duzenack was his name. Cam had played for the Allen Wranglers and Wes Tarbox since he was 13 years old. An obscure select organization, but one that always had 15 “Dirtbags” on the team that would compete from the first pitch to the last out. Fast forward to opening weekend of the 2015 college baseball season. On the Campus of Dallas Baptist University, I arrive early to watch batting practice. The primary objective was to see Coach Heefner and Coach Fitzgerald before the game. What I was treated to was the most entertaining and enlightening pre game preparation that I had ever seen. We all go to the yard hoping to see the long ball or spectacular defensive plays. Batting Practice always provides the former, but never the latter. Wrong, I watched this 5-foot-nothing 155 lbs. short stop put on a defensive show that had me yearning for a glove. The typical batting practice routine for infielders is to take routine ground balls in between hacks, make a 45’ high return toss and avoid the next line drive from the hitter in the cage. That’s not how this dude operates. Camden Duzenack made no less the six diving plays in batting practice. Twice he had a ball in his glove off the fungo and played the ball live off the bat. Most players think BP is a routine of getting mentally prepared for the upcoming nine innings. This kid thinks its Game 7.
When you talk to the young man, it becomes apparent.
“I love baseball. We only get to play 60 games a year. That’s not many and I always want to do my part to help the team”.
Any discussion with Cam educates you in humility. Today’s professional athlete always talks in phrases that include “God Given Ability” and “I want to glorify God.” However, a moment with this kid will reveal a genuine respect for his faith and his respect for the game. Duzenack ensures that every repetition he performs is competitive. What he loves about the game of baseball is that something new occurs every outing.
“You can take 1000 groundballs and no two are the same. It’s a game that anything can and does happen. It’s very technical if you want to perfect things and be good”. He further states, “ as a team we try to win Batting Practice. During fungo, we never want a ball to get by us”. I think you will find that this is a unique and refreshing perspective. Everything the Patriots do is systematic with purpose. “Coach Heefner instills in us to be a grinder, never miss an opportunity to get better when you’re on the field and never waste repetitions.”
This kid never wastes an opportunity.
Texas' Jake McKenzie at bat (Photo credit: TexasSports)
Texas’ Jake McKenzie at bat (Photo credit: TexasSports)
March 7, 2013, I was watching my youngest son play in the Highland Park Classic. It was Keller vs W.T. White. Upon arriving at W.T. White High School, I ran into Skip Johnson, pitching coach at Texas. Skip was actually there a little early and was in attendance to watch a pitcher in the following game. The orange and white clad Longhorns on the field, were not the University of Texas, but W.T. White High School. Call it Karma, but there was a gangly, 5’10” shortstop and relief pitcher on that field that would not be changing mascots or school colors when he went to the next level.
Jake McKenzie at the University of Texas has different skill sets than Duzenack, but the intangibles of grit, heart and “it” are much the same. Jake was not heavily recruited out of high school by Division 1 schools. He, like many other quality high school players, was sought after by smaller schools and junior colleges. This young man’s high school coach, Ralph Ross, was very persistent in explaining to Skip Johnson what Jake was all about. When you speak to the Texas coaching staff, you hear excitement regarding Jake’s makeup.
“We brought him in here because we thought he could be effective against righties with his breaking pitch and we are finding out that it’s hard to keep him off the field” states Skip Johnson.
Tommy Nicholson, Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, says, “Everything Jake does is competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s ground balls, fly balls, or BP, whatever, he is doing is with purpose.”
Ironically, those are the same characteristics that Nicholson possessed as the 1999 & 2000 team Most Valuable Player at Texas. Coach Garrido speaks of his spirit.
“Jake is a winner and does things on the baseball field that you just can’t measure. Make up is hard to define, but invaluable to the team concept. Jake possesses that.”
Beyond baseball McKenzie is a Petroleum Engineering major and the third of four boys with parents that graduated from the University of Texas. Jake says, “I’m going to play as hard as I can every time I step on the field, because you never know when it will be your last.”
The freshman has tossed 5 innings in the young season and talks of his decision to go to Texas. “I was committed to McLennan Community College and the opportunity as a preferred walk-on at Texas came after my senior year. The coaches were very clear about it being an opportunity with no guarantees. I actually thought that my baseball could end pretty quick if I didn’t perform in the fall.”
This guy is wired to succeed. It is embedded in his DNA and is apparent in everything in his life. At W.T. White, he was the vocal leader. “I always tried to help the younger kids, but also listen to them to make sure that I wasn’t missing something. It is important to me that I have a high baseball IQ.”
That IQ translates to the classroom where he is a 4.0 student. Asked if he felt slighted during the recruiting process, “it could have been discouraging seeing guys that don’t perform quite as well get all the attention, but it is what it is. I understand a recruiter having a hard time going back to a head coach and saying let’s take this 5’10” guy that doesn’t throw very hard. I have always just tried to be who I am.”
This wisdom is seldom seen from a freshman. His commitment, work ethic and belief in himself have led to playing time as a Freshman at one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
When you watch Camden Duzenack and Jake McKenzie, you can’t help but be inspired as a baseball enthusiast. Both players may be short on preferred size and short on one or more of the 5 tools of baseball. They both do possess a 6th tool that is off the charts. Each of them is meticulous in their preparation and competitive spirit. There is no doubt that when they are on the field, they make the other eight guys better. Each of these young men understands what they are and what they are not. The maturity of each to not try and be something they are not makes them the player they are. When you hear them speak of statistics, their first thought is wins and losses. It’s not batting average, ERA, WHIP or RBI. They play the game to win. A three-hopper to the SS to drive in a run is just as meaningful as a rocket to left field. This concept would only make our game better if more comprehended that. Each kid talks of team, wins and love of the game. Maybe someday we can measure those qualities and add them to the box score. If you could measure the heart and moral compass of Camden Duzenack and Jake McKenzie, you might find baseballs first 1.000% hitter. If you want to know what a baseball player looks like, go to Disch Falk and look for number 51. If in Dallas, go to Horner Ballpark and look for number 4. For a baseball junkie, it will be your pot of gold.