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Supporters of club baseball programs, such as the 5280 Victorium squad that recently won the Boulder NIT, believe they have many things to offer beyond the scope of high school baseball.
Cliff Grassmick
Supporters of club baseball programs, such as the 5280 Victorium squad that recently won the Boulder NIT, believe they have many things to offer beyond the scope of high school baseball.

Outside John Malkin’s office are the familiar sounds. The baseball meeting leather. The crack of wood. The distinctive ping of aluminum.

There are 20 tunnels inside his Slammers North facility in Broomfield, and athletes of all ages come and go throughout the day, bat bags in tow. Inside his office, Malkin simply wants a chance to offer a “rebuttal.”

A story earlier this month on detailed concerns of high school baseball coaches that club baseball soon could take over the way club soccer has, where players eventually have to choose one or the other. High school coaches cited ways that they are trying to combat the club scene, such as getting creative with their own summer teams and making inroads on a proposal to lengthen varsity season.

Malkin, the director of Slammers North, was one of those on the club side of things who wanted an opportunity to offer a different perspective. The father of Matt Malkin, a recently graduated catcher from Monarch, and Linnie Malkin, a softball standout at Broomfield, is self-described as a love-him-or-hate-him type of guy — and he staunchly believes high school and summer baseball should be kept separate.

“There are only a handful of high school coaches that have a remote understanding of baseball, and ‘a handful’ is on the upside,” Malkin said. “It’s just not in their DNA. They are teachers. They are government employees.”

Malkin contends that there will always be the tussle between high school and club programs until legislation is put in place to prohibit high school coaches from coaching in the summer, as is the case in Texas.

He said he finds it laughable that high schools are aiming to significantly extend the season.

“Thirty-five games? No way,” he said. “Just based on union logistics, it couldn’t work. It’s hard enough to get a guy to coach 10 JV games. How are you going to ask them to do 35?”

He cites weather and lack of pitching among reasons that a vastly extended schedule wouldn’t work in Colorado and firmly believes summer should belong to the clubs.

While outspoken, he isn’t the only one echoing that sentiment.

One former player from a prominent local program, a member of the 2013 all-region team, said that the only reason players from his school played varsity ball was for the spring-break trip to Arizona. Otherwise, “there’d be no point.”

To be clear, none of the high school coaches talked to previously dismissed the club scene as a whole. They were merely insinuating that some programs engaged in questionable practices, including underhanded recruiting tactics. Malkin admits some club teams overcharge and offer false promises, but contends the same thing happens with high school teams that field summer programs.

“One thing you can’t do is prevent people from throwing their money away,” Malkin said. “But if they do it with a club team, at least they are doing it on the free market. The high schools are running a public program that should end when the school year does, rather than letting these coaches use their field as a piggybank.”

Elsewhere, club supporters would rather see a mesh than a divide between high school and club programs.

“When it comes to club versus high school, I don’t really even think there should be a ‘versus’,” Colorado AAU director Matt Walker said. “In Connie Mack, there’s a ton of high school teams and a ton of club teams and there’s a lot of good competition. It’s just the more competitive side of summer baseball compared to Legion.

“Legion is where a lot of the high school programs end up and it’s a little less competitive, but some clubs and high schools play both.”

A point that Walker and Malkin agreed upon is that club coaches and schedules often help out an on-the-cusp player more than a high school program, because the coach has more time than a full-time school employee to market his skills. While a top-level player will get signed regardless, players on the bubble of the college radar are often the ones who most benefit.

“I can get guys placed because I’m a baseball coach,” Malkin said. “I’m not a science teacher.”

Added Walker: “There’s always this misconception that these high school kids are going to be seen by scouts during varsity season, but that’s when those college coaches are coaching. That’s their season too.”

While tension clearly exists between sides, Walker believes many high school and club programs congruently mesh with no issues. And he said there’d be no way any club coach would plot a takeover of varsity season (like in boys soccer), because varsity baseball is too traditional to interfere with.

Al Bleser, both a high school (Thomas Jefferson) and club (Instructional League) coach, said club teams shouldn’t be looked upon as “evil.” He said that questionable tactics often come from the other side, despite a CHSAA bylaw that prohibits coaches from intimidating kids into playing with them for the summer.

“Yet the high school coaches know how to get away with this intimidation,” Bleser wrote in an email to BoCoPreps. “Some of those in your article are guilty of this very point, and (the original story) made them look like the victims. Far from it. This is about freedom of choice for players and families.”

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