Diamond Nation: College coaches’ recruiting home away from home

By Bob Behre | May 15, 2019

(This story also appears in the latest edition of Diamond Nation Magazine, which celebrates the 10th Anniversary of Diamond Nation).

Whether you are coaching College World Series champions Vanderbilt or Coastal Carolina or Division 3 power Kean University, Diamond Nation has become a frequent recruiting stop every summer.

“In my opinion, there is no better place in the northeast than Diamond Nation for a player to get eyes on him,” says Neil Ioviero, in his 22nd season at Kean University. “Teams come in from upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and all over New Jersey. Players are running through there from sunup to sundown. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see a lot of those kids.”

Ioviero and coaches from college teams at every NCAA level, plus JUCOs, stream into Diamond Nation essentially from the moment their college’s season ends and through the summer months to evaluate the enormous amount and high level of talent competing at the Flemington, N.J. facility.

It wasn’t always an easy task to scout players during the summer months. Ioviero remembers all too well. Players, in New Jersey alone, were stretched out on diamonds all over the state, playing games for their local American Legion team or whatever local travel team that sprung up. As travel ball slowly but surely overtook American Legion ball as the primary game in the state, a void still existed as to where to bring all these teams together.

“In some ways I miss the old days because we took pride out there in the cracks, finding kids other people didn’t know about,” said Ioviero. “But Diamond Nation’s facility gives coaches a chance to see kids multiple times. We used to have to drive extreme distances to see one or two kids. It’s nice to go to one place and see a lot of kids and get to know their coaches by name.”

Ioviero’s Kean University Cougars have made six Division 3 World Series appearances and won the national championship in 2007. Ioviero entered the 2019 season with a 660-281-12 (.701) career record.

Whether it’s a busy weekday tournament or a scheduled showcase or clinic, the college and professional coaches streaming into Diamond Nation are given the royal treatment.

“First and foremost, the Diamond Nation staff is extremely coach friendly, which allows for easy and constant communication.” says Coastal Carolina assistant Kevin Schnall, who grew up in Hamilton, N.J. “Secondly, the facility gives you the ability to clearly see multiple fields at one time. This combination is an evaluator’s dream.”

Coastal Carolina assistant coach Kevin Schnall

College and professional coaches do fall in love with Diamond Nation’s scout tower, positioned at the center of the complex and giving scouts — from the tower’s spacious second floor air conditioned room — a vantage point where they can move around and easily view three of the complex’s four large turf fields.

“It’s one stop shopping,” says St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer, winner of the Big East Conference Coach of the Year award a record eight times. “Jack Cust has created a venue for coaches all over to see a lot of players. Jack has developed a minor league spring training complex, allowing players within the region to showcase their skills.” Blankmeyer is in his 24th season at St. John’s and just surpassed 800 career wins.

St. John’s University coach Ed Blankmeyer

While we certainly love our New Jersey schools at Diamond Nation, we are so thrilled when our frequent visitors find the ultimate success as Vanderbilt and Coastal Carolina have at the Division 1 level. Vanderbilt won the College World Series in 2014 and was the CWS runner-up in 2015. Coastal Carolina won the College World Series title in 2016.

“Diamond Nation provides one of the best experiences for a college recruiter,” said Vanderbilt’s pitching coach Scott Brown, in his seventh season with the Commodores and a New Jersey native. “Four fields right in the same location with a great hospitality deck up top. They take care of coaches first class, with meals and drinks provided on site, so you never miss an at bat.”

Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown

Brown has seen a seismic change in how colleges recruit players over the past several years.

“Scouting has become more or less quick decisions,” Brown said, “because prospective players are verbally committing at a much younger age. You often do not have the opportunity to evaluate a player over a longer period of time. We are making decisions at a much younger age and really hoping that we get it right. I still look for all the same things I used to in scouting players 10 years ago, but I am just doing it with a much younger player.”

Monmouth University coach Dean Ehehalt sees some of the same issues in recruitment.

“Obviously the entire recruiting landscape has changed over the last 10 years,” says Ehehalt, in his 26th season at Monmouth and boasting more than 700 career wins. “The recruitment of multiple classes is very common.”

Jim Carone is in his 8th season as the head coach of Wagner College and his success is reflected in his 170 wins entering the 2019 season and the five players his school has seen selected in the MLB draft.

“Diamond Nation has completely changed the way we are able to recruit as college coaches,” says Carone. “The process of evaluating prospective student-athletes has simplified. Just about every travel program in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the country comes through the facility at some point throughout the summer, allowing coaches to evaluate numerous teams throughout the day at the same site.”

Rutgers University coach Joe Litterio

As Carone points out, there are certain conveniences made available to the coaches that you simply cannot get at other facilities. “Keith Dilgard and Nick Massari do a tremendous job communicating in order to make it as easy as possible for coaches during those long summer days,” said Carone. “Tournament schedules are released enough in advance that we, as coaches, can plan for what players and teams we need to see at each time slot.”

Each coach is also provided a “scout pack” which includes each team’s roster with the important biographical information on each player.

Binghamton University serves as another example of a college baseball program that has expanded its recruiting horizons because of Diamond Nation. The upstate New York school, located an hour or so south of Syracuse, credits Diamond Nation for helping it mine talent from the Garden State.

“Diamond Nation has been vital to the growth of our program here at Binghamton,” says Hurba, in his 13th season as the Division 1 school’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. “Since Diamond Nation opened 10 years ago, we have made four trips to the NCAA tournament. That’s no coincidence. Diamond Nation is only 2.5 hours away from our campus, so, not only is it an easy venue to scout, it has opened the doors to New Jersey for us.

“When we tell New Jersey players we are only 2.5 hours away from Diamond Nation, we immediately feel closer to them than ‘Upstate, N.Y.’ In 2009 we only had one player on our roster from New Jersey. We now have nine players from New Jersey and two more 2019 grads signed for next fall.”

The desire for players to be seen and for college scouts to “put their eyes on players” as Kean coach Neil Ioviero says, has served only to heighten the level of play at Diamond Nation.

“It’s obvious that as Diamond Nation’s reputation has grown, more teams from the Northeast find their way there for at least one tournament,” says Hurba. “So each year the competition seems to get better and better.”

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