Johns Hopkins Magazine - April 1994 Issue

The Recruiting Game at Hopkins: Playing to Win

Hopkins baseball coach Robert Babb '77 has a tough sell when recruiting players to a small, academically rigorous university that, true to its Division III status, can't offer baseball scholarships. His record over the last 15 seasons of 343 wins, 141 losses, and eight ties suggests he's been doing something right.

Babb has been named conference Coach of the Year for six of the last seven years, regional Coach of the Year in 1989, and Maryland College Coach of the Year in 1990. His recruits have won eight straight conference championships and four straight University Athletic Association tournaments in Florida, and they have qualified for the Division III NCAA tournament five of the past eight years, finishing third in 1989.

How does Babb regularly out-recruit his competitors?

He knew what he had to do when he began coaching at Hopkins in 1980: "We needed to bring in as many good players as we could, and I realized that to do this we had to upgrade our schedule, improve our equipment and facilities, and increase our publicity."

The coach began by coordinating several fundraising activities. Players organized raffles, sold T-shirts, and participated in marathon baseball games of 40 or 50 innings. Sponsors pledged money for each inning played. Money from these events enabled Hopkins to finance facilities that many Division III programs don't have: warm-up mounds for pitchers, dugouts, a pitching machine, a scoreboard, a radar gun, indoor batting and pitching facilities, and big-league style uniforms emblazoned with players' names. "I make a promise to our players every year that I will provide the best equipment possible," says Babb. "Of course, I expect them to work their hardest throughout the entire year to show me they deserve it."

Babb next attended to the team's schedule, which, in 1980, consisted of only 24 games plus a short trip to North Carolina. He has built the schedule up to 40 games per season; the Jays fly south to play 15 of those games in Florida during two extended spring road trips. Babb has also organized summer trips to Cuba (1986), the former Soviet Union (1988 and 1989), and Russia and Czechoslovakia (1992); few other Division III coaches can offer such opportunities.

"He runs the team like a Division I program, with the trips, the level of competition, and everything," says shortstop Joe Kail '94. "When you visit here in high school and see the way he runs his program, you know this guy is dedicated to winning and you want to play for him."

To increase support for Hopkins baseball, Babb established the Friends of Hopkins Baseball Organization (FHBO) for former players, current players' families, and prospective recruits. FHBO members receive about 15 newsletters during the school year reporting on the team's progress. He also started an annual Alumni Baseball Weekend, which brings together former and current players. "It's great to talk with players who played 10 or 15 years ago," says infielder Norm Gardner '95. "Especially someone like Pete Blohm, who plays for a AAA [minor league] team. It's a great opportunity for young guys to meet someone playing pro ball."

Babb begins recruiting in late May of a prospect's junior year of high school. Based on player profiles he gets from recruiting services, high school coaches, and former players, the coach ranks prospects for academic standing and athletic talent, then goes after the ones he wants. When he can, he watches them play, but that's hard: players on this year's team hail from California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts ((?)), New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Mostly, Babb showers his prospects with literature about Hopkins baseball, and encourages them to visit the campus.

"I make a claim to every kid I recruit that he'll receive more literature from me than any other coach. I want every kid to feel positive about our program and my interest in him," Babb says.

Pitcher Ryan Rippin '94 says players respond to Babb's attention: "As a kid I remember getting letters from him every week and thinking, 'Jeez, this guy really wants me.' With that kind of coach, and a school like Hopkins, you'd have to kick yourself for not going here if given the opportunity."

"I've lost some players because of Division I scholarships," Babb concedes. "And I've lost some kids because it's expensive here. But for the most part I don't lose kids to other Division III schools. None of them have the package we offer academically and athletically. I think we are the premier academic baseball school in the country."

--Brendan O'Connor '95

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