When comparing rosters — in terms of hometowns — between the varsity baseball and softball teams, there are some stark differences. A majority of players on the softball team are from California, while all but two players on the baseball team are either from New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
Headed by coach Sean Leary, the Lehigh baseball coaching staff goes into each recruiting season with one goal in mind: find “Lehigh” players.
Assistant coach John Fugett discussed the importance of athletic, academic and financial fit for potential students during the process.
“I think this affects our recruiting in that one of the main things we look for is the athletic plus the character component,” Fugett said.
The coaching staff travels the country to watch high school games to determine how potential recruits interact with other players and competitors on and off the field. Having many players from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas allows for some previous interaction between players even before they get to Lehigh.
Junior and Bethlehem native Patrick Donnelly talked about the benefits of having a majority of the team being from similar areas.
“Having our team primarily from the Pennsylvania and Jersey areas has been positive for the program in recent years,” Donnelly said. “A lot of guys on the team have either played with or against each other on competitive travel teams throughout high school and come to Lehigh with some chemistry and friendships.”
While the baseball program has been successful in recent years, the coaching staff recognizes the lack of geographic diversity on the team. Sophomore pitcher, Sam Ashey, is one of two players on the team not from the Northeast. From Katy, Texas, Ashey transferred to Lehigh from the Air Force Academy.
Through exchanging emails with Leary and taking an official visit to campus, Ashey formally committed to Lehigh. After getting to know to team, Ashey noted some social differences from players from the tri-state area.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment in terms of playing and they way they dressed.” Ashey said. “The southern culture is a lot different from the tri-state area.”
Although the Lehigh baseball program is filled with many talented and skilled players, it could be beneficial for the program to extend offers to players not from surrounding areas.
“We want to have a national approach, and we do want to look at guys from across the country,” Fugett said. “But to get that final sense of a player, we really do like to know them as much as a person as we can.”
Leary’s history and connections with Lehigh and the Lehigh Valley are other potential factors of why recruits are from the surrounding areas. A Lehigh alumnus, Leary has established connections and is able to utilize them to recruit highly sought-after players from the region.
A new additional recruiting coach, A.J. Miller, has been brought on to the coaching staff. As a New Jersey native, Miller has strong connections with programs from the area but hopes, come recruiting season, to find players from across the country to bring to the campus community.
“With our most recent class they maintain the trend,” Fugett said. “Part of the reason I think with the recent on-field success we have we feel comfortable with our recruiting process. We feel like we’re getting good fits for Lehigh, and so we felt like the most recent class has been the product of the past few years of work ethic and for us in our travel where we go about recruiting.”
Fugett also noted some of the benefits of recruiting local players in relationship to weather conditions when playing on the field. Knowing how to play in less than ideal conditions during competition is crucial given Lehigh’s geographical location.
While this is a benefit, Ashey said players from warm weather climates could have an advantage.
“I think from a talent perspective, kids that come from places where it’s warmer have more experience,” Ashey said. “In Texas I can play baseball for 10 months out of the year.”