Boulder Collegians general manager Matt Jensen has worked tirelessly over the past three and a half years to make sure the Collegians aren't a run-of-the-mill summer baseball team.
That rings true not just for the fan experience, but for the players, as well. The more players that return to the team year after year, the reputation seems to grow.
Despite having options all up and down the Front Range, former Rocky Mountain High School star Spencer Ibarra is coming back for his third season with the Collegians this year. Put simply, the Ohio University outfielder has found a steady home for the offseason.
"It's nice to have a team like the Collegians close, and I just have always like the atmosphere they have built," said Ibarra, who started collegiately at Neosho Community College before transferring to the Division-I Bobcats as a junior last year. "It's a friendly atmosphere and they get the community involved. Matt's done a great job and he's shown he cares about the players, too. The fact he takes time out of his day to give me a call and see how my season's going, it goes a long way."
Ibarra isn't the only one who is returning to the team for 2016. Jaron Balman, a Frederick graduate now at New Mexico State, decided to return for his second season. Pitchers Kevin Flores (Boulder), Wyatt Linde (Boulder), Connor Cremers and Jared Sorenson are also back.
It makes the recruiting process a little easier, but in all honesty there are a lot more schools offering their players to the Collegians than ever before.
Representatives from Sam Houston State, Washington and San Jose State will eventually dot the roster for the team, which begins play on Wednesday at Scott Carpenter Park against the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Baseball League champion Arvada Colts (doubleheader starting at 5:30 p.m.).
"It's not just about Division I, because there are some really good programs all across the levels, but we're starting to get those phone calls wondering what kind of room we have on our team, or, 'hey, I'd like to see if you'd want to take this guy on', stuff like that," Jensen said. "Couple that with guys like Spencer and Jaron, Kevin who was here with us in year one ... when you get those kinds of things happening, it feels like things are really starting to come together."
The Collegians will be after their second trip to the National Baseball Congress World Series held in Kansas at the end of July. The team hopes the winning ways continue as they have the past two years (61-39 record over that span).
For the fourth year in a row, the team will have a different coach but Jensen is confident that former Major League draft pick Haas Pratt — who played in the Oakland organization — will keep the team steered toward an RMCBL league title.
In hiring a strength and conditioning coach, Mark Micucci, Jensen feels like the team will be able to avoid injuries that have plagued them in the past. And, that's another sure sign of Jensen's dedication to giving the players a comfortable environment.
But there's so much more to the team besides what's on the field. Once again, the team will be hosting youth baseball camps in June and July; players will also be open to doing private lessons for minimal cost; and the players will be taking on jobs with the city.
Volunteer work is a big part of the Collegians program, too.
"We work with the city's youth services initiative, the EXPAND program, Boulder Bridge House and several park clean-up days in coordination with the city," said Jensen. "And we're actively seeking any other volunteer work we can get. We want to get these guys involved while they are here."
Costs to play at Scott Carpenter Park have limited the Collegians to seven home dates all season, but there are still plenty of games to look forward to on the schedule — not to mention the new beer garden. They will play on July 4 prior to the city's fireworks display, and on June 29 the team is hosting the first ever RMCBL All-Star Game complete with a home run derby.
The biggest game may be on the road, though, as the Collegians will play the Grand Junction Rockies in an exhibition game at Suplizio Field on June 14.
"I think it'll be fun and a good opportunity for us to get exposed to an organization, too," Ibarra said. "It's that extra chance we have to showcase ourselves a little bit."