Two years ago Shawn Yarbrough and Jim Grief saw a need for middle school and high school baseball players in Paducah and surrounding communities to have the opportunity to play for a high-level traveling team that along with aiding their eventual play as a prep athlete would help them land college scholarships.
The men started the Kentucky Prospects Baseball program with just a 16U team, but this year will field three squads: 13U, 16U and 17U. The teams play in the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, formerly the United States Slow-pitch Softball Association
"In this area for the longest time there were some travel baseball programs that have blossomed here and there, but it's been a long time and there's been a large void over the years," said Yarbrough, KBP director, a 2000 graduate of Lone Oak High School and owner of the River City Baseball and Softball Academy in Paducah. He's been the head coach at Mid-Continent University and a volunteer assistant at UT Martin, and played at John A. Logan College (2001-02), Ole Miss (2003) and McNeese State (2004).
"Coach Grief started the Paducah Storm years and years ago in 1980, and those programs still exist to some capacity. But the game of baseball has changed a lot, and coach Grief and I have acknowledged that need for more of a showcase-type baseball program that plays in larger tournaments that give more exposure and more opportunities to play in front of college coaches and professional scouts at events. So we put this program together to try to give each and every kid a fair, better and equal opportunity to be in front of those scouts week in and week out."
Grief added that with KPR, local players don't have to travel long distances to join teams in other cities. All told, 78 percent of the players in the Kentucky Prospects Baseball organization are within a 30-minute drive from Paducah.
"What was happening was some of our older kids - 16-, 17- and 18-year olds - were leaving the area and going to Lexington, Evansville and Nashville to play on other teams that participate in showcase events," said Grief, the KPR's adviser and roving instructor.
"So what this does is provide an avenue to not have to go so far to have to be able to showcase their talents. We want to see baseball advance in this area. The more chances the kids around here get to perform in front of college coaches, the more opportunities they are going to have. That's our whole goal, is to get these kids to college and get the assistance they need to get an education, and every now and then one of them will get the opportunity to play professional baseball. That's great if it happens, but our main goal is to help them get an education through baseball."
Grief earned a bachelor's from the University of Kentucky and an MBA from Murray State. He began coaching Little League baseball in Italy while serving in the U.S. Army in the 1970s, coached at Paducah Community College and Shawnee College, and has been a scout for the Cincinnati Reds since 1987.
The 13U team consists of three players from Paducah and Hopkinsville and one each from Mayfield, Livingston County, Henderson, Martin, Tenn., and Grand Chain, Ill. The 13U team is ranked 26th in the USSSA 13U Major Rankings Report.
The 16U team is populated by five athletes from McCracken County High, three from Christian County High, and one each from Ballard Memorial, Massac County, Caldwell and Lyon County high schools.
The 17U team features five from McCracken County High and one each from Mayfield, Marshall County, St. Mary and Trigg County high schools. One player who's benefited from playing for the 17U team is McCracken County's Cole Womack, who in December verbally committed to play at Western Kentucky.
"The 16U team we had last year had been together on a couple of different teams through childhood and already had a good team chemistry," Yarbrough said. "We wanted to work our way into this level of baseball with that group playing in big events all around the country. Then in talking with coach Grief we talked about expanding the program, mostly because the development phase begins at 13 and 14 and the exposure phase begins at 15 and 16. So we felt like it gave our program a better opportunity to produce more college athletes to go along with helping them get a better shot at getting a college education paid for by starting these guys with our development and our instruction at a younger age."
The staff includes:
â ¢ Tremayne Donald, the 13U team head coach and KBP base running coach. He was a three-sport star and 1989 graduate from Paducah Tilghman who was drafted in 1989 by the St. Louis Cardinals as a second baseman and played four years in the minors, where he led the organization in stolen bases in his second season. He once coached at Community Christian Academy.
â ¢ Kenny Ford, a 2005 graduate of Lone Oak High School. He played for Southeastern Illinois College and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
â ¢ Daniel Calhoun, a special pitching instructor/coach, who was the pitching coach at Mid-Continent University and was a 29th-round 2009 draft selection by the St. Louis Cardinals and currently plays for the Southern Illinois Miners. He attended Murray State, where in 2009 he was named the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year and an All-American by CollegeBaseballInsider.com (third team), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (third team) and Ping (second team).
The choice of the instructors was key for Yarbrough and Grief, because none of the coaches has kids in the program.
"I'm asked every weekend about when are our tryouts going to be," Grief said. "We've got people all the way from Indianapolis asking me about trying out for us. The main reason is we have no dads in the dugouts. That's one of our rules. Our coaches don't have any kids participating on the team and it's amazing how people are drawn to that idea, because if you don't have a kid on the team you can be more objective and fair."
In the end, Yarbrough and Grief not only want to make sure local kids have a team to play on and get promoted through, but also help them and their parents to understand the recruiting process.
"We've got the men here who all understand the ins and outs of recruiting: compliance issues and more importantly the recruiting time line," Yarbrough said. "That's been the biggest thing in teaching the kids and more importantly the parents in letting them know what to expect over the next five or six years."
Information about the program can be found at www.kyprospectsbaseball.com.
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.