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Howell: Club sports extending careers for area’s former preps

It’s quite common to hear an athlete talk about playing sports “for the love of the game.”

Somehow that seems a little disingenuous when the rhetoric comes during a press conference announcing that player’s new $100 million contract.

When former Longmont High School baseball players Greg Hart and Tyson Martinez talk about the love of the game, however, it’s easy to believe.

On Thursday, Hart and Martinez completed their season with the Colorado State University club baseball team. The Rams lost to Utah State, 14-3, in the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) national title game in Columbus, Georgia.

“We picked a bad time to play our worst game of the year,” said Martinez, a 2008 Longmont graduate.

Still, Hart and Martinez are proud members of CSU.

On the surface, club ball sounds barely better than intramural league, but the NCBA is actually filled with talented squads. More than 120 schools participate in the NCBA and CSU is one of the elite programs. Utah State head coach Norm Doyle referred to the Rams as being “like the New York Yankees” in an article in the Logan Herald Journal this week.

In the 12-year history of the NCBA, the Rams have six national titles, including three in a row from 2008-10.

“We try to run it like a D-I program,” said Hart, a 2009 Longmont grad.

Those who have followed prep baseball over the years could attest to the talent on the CSU roster. From around this area, former Broomfield Eagle Brett Bogner and a pair of former Monarch players, Mitch Nelson and Zachary O’Farrell, are also part of the team.

“We’re all the misfits that never really got the good looks that they deserved or just kind of slipped through the cracks,” Martinez said.

“Everybody is a great ball player that I’ve been playing with. Most of us could definitely be in different programs around the country and getting a scholarship to do it, but these guys, it’s special because we all love to play the game and we’re not getting the scholarships to do it.

“We’re all putting the time in and putting in the effort, because it is something we all love to do.”

Martinez played for a year at Clarendon Colllege in Texas before coming home to Northern Colorado. He was going to walk-on to the team there, but a coaching change thwarted those plans. He still went to school for a year at UNC, but then took a year off. Last year, he played several games in the Arizona Winter League.

He heard about CSU’s program and decided to give it a shot.

“It was awesome being with the team (this year),” he said. “We had a great group of guys. I’ve never been on a team that felt more like a team. It was nice to really have that unity again.”

Hart came to CSU right out of high school and has been a part of the Rams squad for three years, helping them to the 2010 national title.

“It’s definitely a dream come true because coming out of high school there wasn’t a whole lot of offers (from other schools),” he said. “To come here, it’s a whole new opportunity. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

It’s certainly not like any other level of baseball they’ve played.

While CSU’s program is top-notch, the players have to come up with funds for just about everything. So, instead of getting scholarships, they’re actually paying to play.

“When you’re playing for this team, it’s because you love the game,” Hart said.

No question, Hart and Martinez love the game. That’s what led Hart to this team, and it’s what keeps Martinez going after making a few stops along the way.

“I just love playing,” Martinez said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. As long as I can keep doing it and nobody is telling me, ‘You’re not good enough anymore,’ I think I’m going to keep trying to pursue it and keep playing.”