BOULDER — It has always been Matt Jensen's vision not only to build the Boulder Collegians into the summer baseball team that it once was under Bauldie Moschetti, but also to help formulate the right plan for the Rocky Mountain Baseball League to grow in numbers and exposure.
A lot of that stems from his very own baseball background and on Wednesday night at Scott Carpenter Park — as the Collegians hosted the RMBL All-Star Game — Jensen, the Boulder squad's general manager, was drawn back to those memories.
"I had like six at-bats my senior year of high school and I kind of scrapped it out through (junior college), but I played in this league for two years and it extended my ability to play the game and prepared me to play at the next level — no matter what that next step was," Jensen said as he played emcee for the showdown that was just adopted last year as a mainstay. "That's what this league is all about, getting guys ready for their next step. Hopefully we're taking steps to get more guys better opportunities.
"I've kind of talked about this before, but there are ways that this league can adjust and get better with the times, to continue to recruit and perhaps be able to consider itself an elite league, and one of those things is an all-star game. I'm happy that we've been a leader in trying to think outside of the box."
Though the RMBL is an official league of the National Baseball Congress, it still flies under the radar on a nationwide scale — with the Northwoods League of the upper midwest and the Cape Cod League in New England arguably the two most developed college summer leagues in the country. Division I athletes flock to those leagues because of the recognition even among Major League Baseball scouts.
On a lesser scale, Jensen and the Collegians have had several non-local D-I athletes over the past five years and will continue to seek that type of talent along with giving good players from other levels the opportunity to get a few more innings in every year before going back to school.
Kiefer Rawlings is one of those players, and he represented the Collegians in the All-Star Game and the home run derby that preceded the game. He hails from Maryland, attends D-I Bucknell and his only ties to Colorado prior to this summer was skiing trips growing up.
But Jensen wooed him away from other possible destinations back east, and making the all-star squad was something Rawlings won't soon forget ahead of his senior year of college.
"My coach at Bucknell, every time he sends someone off for a summer team, he says the goal is to make the all-star game, so it is a must have," said Rawlings, who previously played for the DC Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. "The game, the derby, this all definitely added to the summer. It's a real fun experience and hopefully more and more players start to see that it's a good time coming out here. It's a great short season league."
If Wednesday's festivities showed anything, it displayed the abundance of individual talent beyond Division I. Regis University's Garrett Skillings (representing the Denver Black Bears) lit up the evening sky with 20 home runs in the derby, though Northeastern Junior College's J.T. Patterson (playing for the Sterling XPress) won the derby with the better final-round performance.
As for the game itself, the host Collegians were represented by Rawlings, Billy Moreland (Northern Colorado), Noah Lee (Texas-Rio Grande Valley), Danny David Linahan (Southwest Oklahoma State), Joe Myers (Henderson Satate), Cole Tucker (Cuesta College) and Tanner Johnson (Garden City Community College).
The home run derby foreshadowed the hitting fiasco of the game itself, which was won by the visiting American League 11-9 in front of an estimated 350 spectators. Myers hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to provide to highlight the efforts of the home team.
"We want to showcase our league but we also want to showcase our team and our community here in Boulder, and I think we were able to do that (Wednesday) with the All-Star Game," Jensen said. "Our goal is that every player who participates in this game is able to go back to their school with a story, and to share that with other ball players and hope that resonates with guys."