MCGILL: Northwest Recruiting Pipeline Important to @HerdBaseball
The Word on the Herd -- April 5, 2017
By Chuck McGill
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Dan Straily, a 27-year-old Major League Baseball player, will start Wednesday as the Miami Marlins’ No. 2 pitcher in a five-man rotation. Straily’s journey to becoming a frontline starter in the big leagues went through Marshall University, where he played two seasons before becoming a 24th round draft pick by the Oakland Athletics in 2009.
When Straily returned to Huntington for a visit following the 2016 season, he called Marshall “a big stepping stone” and “a big growth period” in his journey toward the majors. Now, others are following in his footsteps.
Straily, you see, is a native of Springfield, Oregon – hardly a stone’s throw from the western corner of West Virginia. Before Marshall, Straily attended Western Oregon University. He made the bold move to essentially switch coasts, trading the breathtaking Pacific Northwest for the majestic Mountain State. When he was on the Thundering Herd roster, Straily was the only player from the Washington-Oregon area. That is no longer the case.
Half of Marshall’s eight regulars in the field are from Washington or Oregon. There are players from West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Texas represented, but those are regional recruiting bases or talent-rich states. The pipeline created in the Pacific Northwest is a unique one for Marshall – and it’s working.
“It started with Dan Straily,” Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner said. “A guy who is in the big leagues who has had success. We started getting up there a little bit more.
“It started the snowball of recruits coming in.”
Marshall has seven players on its current roster from Washington or Oregon: Sam Finfer, a senior from Bellevue, Washington; Kody Matthews, a junior from Roseburg, Oregon; Brad O’Connor, a junior from Springfield, Oregon; Leo Valenti, a senior from Olympia, Washington; Tommy Lane, a senior from Pendleton, Oregon; Shane Hanon, a sophomore from Gig Harbor, Washington; and Sam Boone, a junior from Shoreline, Washington.
Finfer, Lane and Hanon were the 3-4-5 hitters during Tuesday’s game at West Virginia, and Valenti got the start at shortstop. Entering Wednesday’s non-conference game against Virginia Tech at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, the quartet of Finfer, Hanon, Lane and Valenti started a combined 96 games this season for the Herd (12-14, 4-5 Conference USA).
Wednesday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
“I got my foot in the door and ended up playing well when (Coach Waggoner) came to watch me play,” Valenti said. “It was hard at first because my dad and I are really close and I only knew one person when I came to West Virginia.”
Valenti received a recommendation from former Herd outfielder D.J. Gee, a Seattle native who blossomed into a Conference USA first team selection with the Herd. Valenti could see a roster that would make him feel at home.
“That gives us something in common,” Valenti said.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Lane added.
Lane, who is 6 feet and 7 inches tall, led Conference USA in home runs (13) and was sixth in RBIs (48) last season after transferring from Oregon’s Mount Hood Junior College. The 2016 C-USA Newcomer of the Year said Marshall coaches spotted him in a sophomore showcase for his junior college league.
“There are fewer Division I schools for the amount of people in the area so there are a lot of players that get overlooked there,” Lane said. “People from other parts of the country can come in there and there’s still a good amount of talent still available.”
It is a recruiting trend Marshall hopes will continue. From Straily to the current group, the Pacific Northwest has been good to the Herd.
“It starts a pipeline,” Waggoner said. “Conference USA is one of the best baseball conferences in the country, so kids know about it. You can recruit nationally with our conference and they know how good of a conference this is – a top 5 RPI conference. They can come here and be seen by professionals and play against the best in the country.”