Like most high school athletes planning to play sports in college, Eric Sledge is still finding ways to work on his craft, even with spring sports canceled.
The Stonewall Jackson High baseball player wakes up around 7 a.m., much like he did when school was in session, and heads over to a recreational field in Manassas used by the Greater Manassas Baseball League (GMBL).
There the senior does speed and agility drills, and he and several teammates fling the ball around. Police officers sometimes swing by to make sure they have fewer than 10 people. The players bring their own equipment since much of it is locked up at school.
“I’m getting out there hitting with friends. We have about eight or nine on a turf football field. I do some baseball work and things related to fitness. We’ll hit on the field and throw, do infield drills, outfield stuff, sometimes with pitching,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our bodies in shape.”
Sledge says he has a healthy fear of the COVID-19. “My dad bought me a glove to pump gas, and I put my nose under my shirt or hoodie (around people),” said Sledge. He’s doing plenty of hand washing and makes sure he’s not around more than 10 people. “A lot of people my age think it would not be that bad, but you’ve got to take some precautions,” he said.
A 5-foot-11 outfielder and team captain, Sledge (“like the hammer,” he says) wants an athletic scholarship, but these coronavirus-shattered times have created issues in recruitment.
Sledge has an offer to be a walk-on at NCAA Division I Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J. While a guaranteed roster spot is flattering, it’s not the athletic scholarship Sledge seeks. If he had gone to Saint Peter’s, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), he’d only get academic aid.
He wants to go to college for his baseball skills, so he declined. “I’m still open. I said, ‘Thank you for the offer, but I’m still looking.’ I don’t want to go to school and have to take out loans,” said Sledge.
This is a tricky time to be a recruited athlete. Due to the cancellation of NCAA spring sports, college seniors playing spring sports will likely be granted an extra year of eligibility, which throws some roster spots up in the air for high school athletes moving on to college.
“Some money might be taken away from us,” Sledge said. “It’s messed up a little bit. Junior colleges, with all this going on, might be the best route.”
Sledge hit .330 as a junior and was a Cedar Run District second team selection and team MVP. He had high hopes for his senior campaign, which was wiped out after about three weeks of practice. “This year I expected to hit .400. I’ve been working hard. I’m 195 pounds; I was 180 last year. On a growing team, I stood out. This year I wanted to take us places,” said Sledge.
A strong student who carried a 3.97 GPA and is a member of the Prince William Student Senate, Sledge is using some of his free time writing college essays for academic scholarships. He’s also been seen by scouts for his play on the Canes travel program, which has a strong track record of getting high school players into college programs.
He’s been in touch with colleges on his own. “In this day and age, you have to advocate for yourself,” said Sledge.
The Virginia High School League has left the door open for play in June or July. Stonewall improved under coach John Miller last year, going from two wins to six. Sledge said 10 wins was the target this year.
“We’re a football school. Baseball is trying to grow,” said Sledge.
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