- Published on Monday, 23 April 2012 12:00
- Written by Melissa Couto
Take Dewald de Klerk, for example.
In February, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound (95 kg) catcher of the 18-and-under Junior Diamondblacks signed a letter of intent to develop his baseball skills at Bellevue College, a two-year post-secondary school in Washington state.
In order to prepare for baseball at the Junior College level, de Klerk has adopted a vigorous workout routine, implementing it alongside his regular hitting and catching drills.
"I've been doing it for four months now," he said of his new regimen. "I lift every day at 6:30 am until 8:15 am, then I lift for another 45 minutes after school and run for an hour to an hour and a half."
Judging by the hard work he's already put in, the 17-year-old is eager and determined to take his talents to the next level.
"I'm really excited for this opportunity because I know about the great reputation of the school and their baseball program," de Klerk said. "Bellevue's the best Community College in the Northwest and their program is highly respected among all colleges in the nation.
"My baseball ability and knowledge of the game will drastically improve at Bellevue," he added. "I know this because of the program they run and the coaching staff they have. They won the state championship last year so that's pretty exciting."
After watching de Klerk in action last season, the head coach of Bellevue's baseball program, Mark Yoshino, personally took note of the youngster's potential.
"His size and strength," Yoshino said of what first drew his attention to the Auckland native. "When I saw him last summer, he showed the ability to hit with strength which is a key component that we look for here [at Bellevue]."
Indeed, being a strong athlete is something Yoshino values, especially in his hitters. Using only wooden bats, the players in his baseball program set a Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) home run record with 55 in 40 games last season.
According to Jim Stewart, de Klerk's current coach at the Chaffey Baseball Club, hitting is one of the only areas of the Kiwi's game that still needs work, but he has no doubt that his young player can fit right in with Bellevue's long-ball hitters.
"His catching itself has improved dramatically. He's worked very hard at it," Stewart said. "He's a completely different guy than he was [when he arrived]. I think that his weakness at this point is hitting, but his work ethic and his intensity are good enough to get to that level of ball and get better.
"A part of it is that kids here [in the U.S.] have played so much more ball, so he walks into the game a little bit behind, so to speak," Stewart added. "But he's big. He's a big strong kid, and he's really quick for someone his size."
According to Stewart, Bellevue College is a great place for de Klerk to strengthen his mind while further strengthening his body.
"Mark's a real players' coach in the sense that he's there to develop the young men as people and as players," said Stewart, who has a lot of experience with Yoshino. "If you don't make your grades and you don't want to go to class, Bellevue's just not the place to be.
"[Yoshino] cares more about the young man developing as a person and academically moving forward than he cares about wins or losses. There's not that many people like that," Stewart added. "That's why the kids all love him. He treats them like adults."
Academically, de Klerk will have to perform if he wants to play on the team.
"Dewald will need to take a full course load every quarter and receive C's or higher," Yoshino stressed.
Due to his status as an international student, de Klerk is making history with his scholarship offer from Bellevue.
"We have not offered scholarships to international students in the past," Yoshino admitted. "We have a player on our club now from Korea, but it is rare since the cost to attend is so high. We also have so many talented players in the region so it's generally not necessary to recruit internationally.
"International students come to us seeking the opportunity since our club has one of the highest transfer rates of players receiving scholarships to play baseball at the major four-year universities and/or signing professionally in the country," he said.
"Just enjoy the journey," Hawksworth said. "Our time as players is short. Enjoy your teammates, apply yourself in school, and go in with the mentality of 'I'm going to outwork everyone' - not for attention or praise, but for results on and off the field.
"Bellevue was the right place for me at that time," the right-hander added. "My time there was brief [one year] but I learned how to take care of myself and prepare for professional baseball."
As for de Klerk, he knows how special this opportunity is.
"I let the whole idea of me actually going there settle in for a couple days," the high school senior said of his decision-making process. "But I never doubted that I was making the right choice for my future baseball career."
By Melissa Couto |
Melissa Couto is a budding sports writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @throwinsmoke
This story was not subject to the approval of Baseball New Zealand or its affiliates.