CONYERS - Three years ago, Rick McCleskey came to Conyers with a vision: start a baseball training program that could help local players get an opportunity to play college baseball.
So far, so good.
Last season, New Level Training helped send three players to college: Brett McCullers (Asbury College, Ky.); Julian Carter (Tennessee Wesleyan); and Jay Cliatt (Georgia Southwestern), and in total, 15 players have gotten a college opportunity thanks to New Level.
The program's founder and head coach of the 18-under New Level Training Cardinal, Rick McCleskey is hoping the college opportunities increase as word spreads about the benefits of New Level.
"What my passion is, is development; there's no monetary reason for New Level," said McCleskey. "We want to be able to help any athlete from any economic background, to help them get to the next level. These kids that are trying to get into college are trying to stay in college."
New Level started off by targeting private Christian schools, since most high school players had already been playing on the same summer teams for years.
Things started to change last season when local players like Newton High School infielder/pitcher Chris Moss and third baseman/outfielder Chris Rape joined the program. McCleskey expects that trend to continue.
"We were getting our program started; first year we targeted private Christian schools," McCleskey said. "All the mainstream high school players were taken. Last year, we got some of the mainstream high school athletes, and this year is kind of the same way. It's been a little bit of a strain getting the programs going. I'm waiting for the program to get a reputation where I won't need to do as much recruiting (for players)."
McCleskey thinks a minimum of three players could get to play at the college level after this season, which continues for the Cardinal this weekend at the Triple Crown Summer Sizzler in Alpharetta and next week at the 18-under World Wood Bat tournament. Outfielder/infielder Joshua Lavender, infielder Raul Delgado and outfielder/infielder Steven Taylor, all recent high school graduates, are on McCleskey's radar as having a shot to put on a college uniform in the future.
Adding a former professional to the coaching staff doesn't hurt. Al Sadler, an Atlanta native and former Rockdale student who played for seven seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization from 1992-98, joined McCleskey's staff.
"I put qualified people out there that know how to teach the fundamentals," said McCleskey, who also has Young Harris' Gabe Shivers on staff. "It's our job to raise their skill level and develop them. The coaches work hard to develop them (and) I'm very demanding of my coaches. If we're expecting these kids to play a higher level, we need to raise our level."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.