When you’re chasing a dream in baseball, you go where you need to go.
And for three Snohomish County ballplayers, that journey has taken them to a conservative Christian university in rural southern Virginia, and to a baseball program that is already good and getting better.
Tyler Cox, a designated hitter and 2008 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School; Ian Parmley, an outfielder and 2008 Monroe graduate; and Michael Robertson, an outfielder and 2007 Jackson grad, are all members of the Liberty University baseball team. All three are starters and top offensive contributors, though Robertson has missed the last several weeks with a thigh injury.
They are part of a player pipeline that links Liberty with the Puget Sound area. Teammates Jacob Kemmerer from Issaquah and Brooks Roy from Tacoma are pitchers who played at Edmonds Community College. Current Edmonds CC pitcher Skye Adams from Vancouver, Wash., has committed to play for Liberty next season.
“We get kids from all over (the country),” said Jim Toman, Liberty’s fifth-year head coach. “We’re looking for good, hard-nosed players who can help us win and understand that we’re going to do it the right way. And the kids from out that way have been good to us.”
Of the 32 players on Liberty’s roster, 13 are from the West Coast and seven are from Washington. The Washington players all attended community colleges (Cox, Parmley and Robertson played at Bellevue CC) and were recruited by Liberty assistant coach Garrett Quinn, who has close ties with many of the state’s CC baseball coaches.
“I think the first couple of (Washington) guys that came here liked it a little bit, and then the next guys liked it, too,” Toman said. “So we’re going to continue to recruit kids from out that way as long as they want to come here and as long as they fit into this school.”
When Robertson got his first recruiting letter from Liberty, “I had no clue who they were,” he admitted. “I thought it was probably a small program that didn’t win very much. But I looked them up on-line and then came on a recruiting trip, and I saw that it was a good program on the rise.”
Indeed, the numbers are impressive. Since Toman’s first season in 2008, the Flames are 179-105 (.630 winning percentage), including a school-record 42-19 mark in 2010. Seven players from last year’s squad were drafted by major league teams, also a school record.
Liberty, which will have a new $10-million baseball stadium in 2013, started this season 16-1 and has non-conference wins over Virginia and North Carolina while losing a close game to Georgia.
“Our conference (the Big South Conference) is kind of on the rise,” Cox said, “And when we get to go out and play Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, that helps. It’s awesome to go to those big schools and play them.”
The level of baseball “is really great,” Parmley said. “The competition is really good and our team chemistry is probably the best I’ve ever had.”
As a Christian school, Liberty recruits good athletes who are also good citizens. Or as Toman explained, “We want kids with high character. You don’t necessarily have to be a believer to come here, but you do have to be open to a Christian environment.”
Compared to public universities like Washington or Washington State, or even a local community college, “things are different,” Cox said. “It’s a Christian university, so there’s a little bit tighter watch. There are more rules and we’re held to a higher standard, but it’s also been a good cultural experience.”
“It’s a good Christian environment,” Parmley said, “which was something I was kind of looking for.” With a partial scholarship, he added, “this was the best option for me and my family. School-wise and religious-wise, it was something that fit really well for me.”
The downside for Puget Sound-area kids, obviously, is the distance from home.
“Being 3,000 miles away is a bit of a wakeup call,” Parmley said. “But I just wanted to go somewhere where I could come in and play right away, and also get a good education. So that really wasn’t a huge issue for me.”
“I don’t really get homesick,” Robertson said, “but I wish my parents could come (to games) more often. But it takes a full day of travel to get here, so they can only make it out once a year.”
The tradeoff, he went on, is that Lynchburg “is a college town and a close-knit community.” The team might draw 4,000 fans for a Friday night game, “and it’s really fun having the whole community behind you. There are no pro sports here, so it’s kind of like we’re the only show in town.
“It’s a southern Baptist community, so it’s a lot different culturally and it takes a while to get used to that. But I like it here a lot. There’s just a lot of great people here that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life.”