City College athlete still applying best speed, despite cancellation of baseball season
Music playing over stadium speakers, the buzz of the crowd, sunflower seed shells on the ground, the smell of hot dogs and the sound of the crack of a bat—it’s spring and time for baseball at Union Stadium.
But this year is different because on March 19 California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) canceled spring sports due to the COVID-19 quarantine. The team had only played seven conference games before the last 20 games were canceled.
Dennis Boatman, a 20-year-old pitcher at City College, known for having a 96 mph fastball, among other things, had the same reaction as the rest of his teammates when their baseball season was cut short.
“We were devastated,” Boatman said. “We still haven’t met together as a team, since we’re not supposed to meet up in big groups yet.”
Boatman was one of many athletes who wanted to see how this season would play out.
“We knew that this was the team that was going to go all the way,” Boatman said. “This was the team—it had all the pitching, it had all the hitting. It just sucks that it had to end so quickly.”
Dennis Boatman comes from an athletic family, but he was the first one to play baseball. He has two older sisters—one played soccer, and the other ran cross country in high school. His dad was a big golfer and wanted his son to play golf as a kid, which he did for a couple years.
But one of Boatman’s best friends was playing Little League, and the young golfer decided to see if he liked baseball.
“[My dad] was actually upset when I asked him to start playing baseball because of how much he really wanted me to play golf,” Boatman said. “But he ended up letting me play, and I don’t think he has any big deal with it now.”
Boatman stood out among other players due to his height and build. His freshman year in high school he was 6 feet 3 inches and threw a fastball in the low to mid 80s mph. That year he got a recruitment letter from UCLA, which made him realize he had a shot to play at the next level. He was a big recruit across the country. Coaches told Boatman he had a projectable frame, someone who would be able to put on a decent amount of weight even though he was still pretty tall, and had a lot of good qualities and characteristics for a good projected pitcher.
“Yeah, we can see you in two or three years when you’re at UCLA—you’re going to be a big starting pitcher,” UCLA recruiters told Boatman.
Boatman and his dad have always been big Pac-12 fans, but because UCLA is his dad’s favorite team, Boatman grew up a UCLA fan, too. Boatman decided to commit to UCLA the summer after his sophomore year.
“For [UCLA] to be the first school to reach out to me, that was super special for me and my dad and me and my parents,” Boatman said. “They were also the first school to offer me a scholarship, and I took it up right away. I was super excited.”
But in his senior year he started to struggle a little.
“[I] wasn’t very consistent,” Boatman said.
City College baseball head coach Derek Sullivan, who has been head coach for the last eight years, said that being a high profile athlete for so long might have put a lot of pressure on Boatman.
“I don’t know how much fun he had,” said Sullivan. “And when he started to struggle, that's a bad snowball.”
During Boatman’s freshman year at UCLA he had a leg injury, so he was redshirted and wasn’t able to play that year.
“First couple outings I was honestly pretty scared because I hadn’t faced any competition in a while,” Boatman said. “And I expected to be off to a tough start, which happened my first three or four starts. I would go out and want to throw a lot of strikes, which would then put me in this bad situation.”
In some games he could go two or three innings in relief with no runs and a few strikeouts. According to Boatman, he realized his confidence wasn’t consistent because he had gotten to a point where he expected to fail.
At UCLA, head coach John Savage would have the consistent starters play in a Cape Cod Baseball League during the summer. But if a player was not ready for it Savage would send him to the Northwoods League in Minnesota, which is where he had Boatman play in the summer of 2019. While in Minnesota Boatman had an unsuccessful season that changed his path in baseball.
“My coach at UCLA said, ‘I think it’d be best for you to go to a junior college for a year,’” Boatman said. “So we both decided that’s probably what would be best for me to try to get my confidence back, get some playing time again, so that I can be ready to go next year at UCLA again.”
Savage told Boatman there was an option to remain at UCLA but said, “You probably won’t be getting much playing time the way you are playing right now.”
Boatman took the news hard. After he talked with his parents, they all came to the conclusion that going to a community college to play was the best option for him.
Sullivan recalled that he received a call from Savage during the summer of 2019.
“Hey, this might be an option for the kid. What do you think?” Savage asked Sullivan.
Sullivan agreed that it might be best for Boatman to come to a place like City College where he could pitch a lot, get better and develop.
“They didn’t see a ton of innings for [Boatman at UCLA],” Sullivan said. “The idea was, ‘We really want him back as long as Dennis wants to come back.’”
City College pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Deskaheh Bomberry, received a call from Savage, too. Savage said that he’d suggested that Boatman should play at City College. Bomberry remembered that he was driving to Lake Tahoe when he got a call from Boatman.
“I pulled over and spent 30 minutes on the phone with him,” Bomberry said, “just talking about what we could hopefully help him do and all the different ways we wanted to help him.”
Boatman is from Roseville, but he said he didn’t know much about community college baseball programs in the area since he’d set his sights on UCLA since the summer after his sophomore year.
Bomberry said since Boatman came to play for the Panthers, they’ve worked to clean up his arm action and make it a little more rhythmic. In high school Boatman pitched his fastball in the upper 80s. Last year his fastball stayed the same in the upper 80s, touching 90-91 every once in a while.
“His arm action before was kind of violent, [and] it wasn’t super efficient. It just caused all sorts of breakdowns throughout the chain,” said Bomberry, who has been the Panthers’ pitching coach for 22 years. “At his release point there was nothing happening the way you’d want it to happen.”
Bomberry made some adjustments to Boatman’s arm action.
“We started it right away, and he took to it really easily, and he’s made a lot of progress,” said Bomberry.
After the adjustments, Boatman was able to get his fast ball up to 96 mph and has become a more consistent pitcher.
“I remember the first time I threw it, I was out in the bullpen, and I was super excited,” Boatman said. “Upper 90s has been the goal my whole life, and I have been floating around 90 miles an hour for a few years, so having that big increase was super exciting for me.”
According to Bomberry, the most important factor in Boatman’s success has nothing to do with mechanics or pitching: Boatman is enjoying the sport again.
“When was the last time you had fun playing baseball?” Bomberry asked Boatman.
During Boatman’s senior year in high school he started to focus on his success because he was talking to a lot of teams.
“It turned into ‘I need to do well; I need to get drafted,’” said Boatman. “It turned into a burden of ‘If I don’t do well, I’m not going to be able to play baseball.’”
He put a lot of pressure on himself trying to get drafted.
“It shocked [me] realizing I hadn’t had fun since my junior year of high school,” Boatman said. “[Bomberry] told me that he didn’t care if I didn’t throw a single strike the entire fall. He said, ‘You are going to pitch every single week, and the only thing we care about is you having fun.’ And I had a very successful fall and spring.”
Boatman was, until the cancellation of the season, focused on the team and winning games.
“Talent-wise, he’s right up there with the best guys we have, but he’s also right up there as a really great teammate,” Sullivan said. “That doesn’t always happen with guys that are going to come in and be here for one year, and they are trying to do some things for themselves.”
Sullivan called Boatman “a sponge,” soaking up experience and learning a lot. One of those lessons is a City College baseball tradition—best speed. The idea, according to Sullivan, is for players to give their best effort with every breath. Both Sullivan and Bomberry said that Boatman is a good teammate, one who often assists other players, particularly pitchers.
“He wants to help people, wants to be a good teammate, wants to do the right things for the right reasons,” Bomberry said. “I think that’s been the most refreshing part of the whole thing—just the type of person he’s been since he’s been here.”
Because Boatman has played at City College, it opens him up to the Major League Baseball draft. Boatman was named one of the JUCO Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects, according to Perfect Game.
“The plan is still UCLA, but I’m not saying no to the draft yet,” Boatman said.
Being able to play professionally is still Boatman’s ultimate goal. And he’ll have that opportunity, according to Bomberry.
“He’ll be drafted. It’s just a matter of how early in the draft it could be,” Bomberry said. “It’s just a matter of what he values more at this point in his life. Is it going to UCLA for another year and then trying to go back in the draft, or is it going into the draft this year and signing a contract this year?”
With the spring sports canceled, there are a lot of questions. According to Boatman, eligibility is still getting figured out for NCAA Division I as well as how the MLB draft will happen.
The MLB will still have a draft but with changes. The draft date could be pushed back, and most likely have 5-10 rounds as opposed to 40. The MLB will limit the amount of the signing bonus and will distribute it out over the next two years instead of upfront, according to CBS Sports.
Now, Boatman has to focus on his unclear future.
“Whether it’s pro ball, if I get drafted or UCLA or Sac City wherever I’m at,” Boatman said, “[my mindset has] changed more to [thinking more like] an individual rather than winning for the team.”
Still, Boatman is happy with his decision to play for City College. Even though the season ended early, he had an ERA of 2.77 with 25 strikeouts and eight walks.
“I think that’s probably been one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my baseball career so far because of how much I've been able to get better and how much I’ve changed,” Boatman said. “I’m just super happy that I made that decision. And I’m excited to go back to UCLA next year and just be ready to play.”
Article at https://saccityexpress.com/boatman-still-applying-best-speed-despite-cancellation-of-baseball-season/
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