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Tournaments : : Story
Collegiate A's excel on field, in school.
Jim Ecker        
Published: Friday, October 09, 2009

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You have to be smart to play baseball, but the Collegiate A's take the concept to extremes. All of their players have to maintain at least a 3.5 GPA in high school to be on the team, everyone must be serious about college, and everyone must be a good citizen.
 
It's a formula that seems to be working for Nick Carden, the veteran coach, psychologist and founder of the program. He wants good kids, smart kids and motivated kids who want to find a good fit for themselves in college some day, both as students and players.
 
"That's the whole goal of the program, basically," Carden said Friday at the WWBA Underclass World Championship, "just to make sure that their grades are good, make sure they're taking the SATs as many times as they can, make sure that they're contacting coaches."
 
Carden, who lives in Albany, Ga., began the Collegiate A's program three years ago. So far, 32 of his former players (about 80 percent) have signed to play college baseball, and there appear to be many more on the way.
 
"You've got to have savvy to be able to play the game," said Seth Mann, a junior at Tift County High School in Tifton, Ga. "Being able to do trig and all that stuff isn't going to help you on the field, but guys who know how to do all that stuff are going to have that 'smartness' that comes along with it."
 
Mann is a prime example. He pitched seven shutout innings Friday as the A's tied the South Charlotte Panthers, 0-0, in Pool Play, and he also carries a perfect 4.0 GPA in the classroom, with nary an A-minus or B-plus.
 
Carden said there are three 4.0 students on his roster, and there's another player who got a near-perfect score on his SAT college entrance exam. He has players from South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia on his club, with mostly high school juniors and a few sophomores. They all hustle and think ahead.
 
Remember, if you don't get good grades, you can't be on this team, no matter how good you are.
 
"It's just another thing that keeps me wanting to get good grades and not slack off and all that," said Chase Patrick, a junior at Lee County High School in Leesburg, Ga., who played a strong game at shortstop on Friday and carries a 3.5 GPA. "With Coach Nick and my parents, I don't really have time to make bad grades."
 
Tate Bullard is another one of the A's with a 4.0 GPA. He likes being on a team with other good students who work hard, both in the classroom and on the field.
 
"It's upbeat and we're friends," said Bullard. "Nobody has to worry about picking people up about grades. I just try to keep my grades up, because I know that's going to be a big, big deciding factor in where I go to college."
 
Bullard, like Mann, is a junior at Tift County High School. They're classmates and teammates in high school, and they formed a strong battery Friday morning against the South Charlotte Panthers. Mann pitched a strong game, and Bullard caught a good game.
 
Carden is serious about getting his players into college. With grades like these, they can get into a lot of schools, but Carden wants to make sure they get into the right school so they can get a good education and play ball. He makes them identify "target" schools, "reach" schools and "fallback" schools, and they go to work. He talks to the players and their parents about college, and monitors each player's e-mails to the various schools to make sure it's done correctly.
 
"He's really gotten on me about it," said Bullard. "He said don't wait until it's too late. He said it's never too early to start."
 
Carden has been coaching baseball for more than 30 years and has a Ph.D. in psychology from Florida State. He's been a practicing psychologist for 25 years, working extensively with swimmers, track athletes and baseball players. He promotes a strong body and a strong mind.
 
"The mental part of the game is absolutely essential," he said.