The alumni list for the Scorpions Baseball Club is an impressive one, with household names like Chris Sale and Zach Greinke dotting a lengthy list of big leaguers one of the most well-known and highly-respected programs in travel baseball has produced.
But that’s not what Scorpions President & CEO Bob Rikeman is the most proud of when he speaks about the program he took over around two years ago.
Not even close, really.
“I think what I’m most proud of is creating value,” Rikeman told FutureStarsSeries.com “If you look at travel baseball, no investment broker in the world is going to tell you it’s a good investment. It’s just not. If you look at things from a business standpoint; if you think about it, you spend all this money for your kid to potentially get a 25-percent scholarship. If that’s at a state school, you may get $1,100. So, if you look at all the money people are spending on travel baseball, what are you giving back to them? I think the value we’re creating with the scholarship program, the academic tutoring, the things that are good for all of the kids…that’s what I’m most proud of, not just the kids that are getting the big-time scholarship in the ACC or SEC schools.”
Academic tutoring program? Scholarship program?
With the Scorpions, who were founded by Sal Lombardo back in 1995, the focus isn’t necessarily so much on the players who will one day turn into your Chris Sale’s and Zach Greinke’s. It’s looking out for, as Rikeman puts it, “the other 90 percent” who are looking to further their educations and careers at the college level.
“When I took it over, they were already starting to grow,” says Rikeman, a long-time college coach and scout for the Chicago White Sox.
“They already had affiliates. One of the things I wanted to do – and I coached college and was a scout in professional baseball for almost 25 years – was not go back on the field, but run a business. My goal for this organization was to create development within travel baseball. There’s too much, in my opinion, missing school to play baseball in tournaments and five games in 24 hours. I want to change travel baseball to make it more of a development-based organization where we’re getting kids to go to college for the right fit.
“The 10 percent of kids that go to the SEC schools, they don’t need the Scorpions, Evoshield, anybody. They’re good enough they’re going to get drafted. But what about the other 90 percent of kids who are in your organization and paying to play baseball? What are we doing for those kids? So that’s really what I want, to make it more development-based. We’ve added a scholarship program, so that every single kid who plays for the Scorpions gets scholarship money towards private school. If they go to Rollins, Jacksonville or even a Harvard, they can earn up to $23,500 per kid. We want to do things like that. We have an academic tutoring program we’ve implemented. It’s trying to be different than, ‘Give me your money and let’s go to a tournament.’ There are programs out there that have had much more success in guys going to the major leagues, but our major success rate is with college. That’s something that I’m really proud of, that we’re trying to find as many spots for kids to play as humanly possible so they can continue playing a game they love.”
There are certainly plenty of opportunities for those under the Scorpions vast umbrella do so, with teams all over Florida and now Georgia that host players from ages 9-18; they also own a Florida Collegiate League team called the Seminole County Scorpions.
But it’s the extraordinary commitment to development – both on and off the field – that made the Scorpions core values mesh with those of the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series powered by Program 15.
“I think there was two things that made it a fit,” Rikeman said. “One, I really like sitting down with (NBBFSS/P15 CEO) Jeremy (Booth) and talking baseball with him, and I like his philosophy of teaching the game and making sure we’re helping every kid. That’s maybe not 100 percent possible, and I understand that, but in some way, shape or form we can try to help every kid in some way. I know we can’t get every kid a baseball scholarship, I know we can’t get every kid in the SEC. But, I like Jeremy’s philosophy of trying to teach every single kid to be better, and I think that’s going to help them be better in life and everything else. That was one key. The other thing is the program is just outstanding. We had a couple kids go to Camelback this year, and they loved it. I know Neil Brooks, his son plays for us, and I respect him a ton. When he came to me and said, ‘I really think you need to talk to these guys, it’s time,’ I said OK. I think it’s a good fit for what I’m looking for with the Scorpions and a good fit for what Jeremy’s looking for with Program 15.”
The connection for both programs was Mr. Brooks, the manager for Baseball Sports Marketing at New Balance. Rikeman had initially approached Brooks — whose son Michael plays for the Scorpions and was one of two members of the organization, along with Dylan Simmons, who played at the International Week event at Camelback Ranch this year – when he first took over the Scorpions, but things ultimately didn’t come together until this summer, when Booth flew down to Orlando to meet with Rikeman.
Things went so well, the announcement of the Scorpions joining forces with NBBFSS/P15 was made the very same day.
“Bob Rikeman is a baseball guy with a huge heart for players,” Booth said. “He is the epitome of what we’re looking to work with here in the global grassroots player identification and development group. I’m going to lean on Bob not only for Florida, but for the New England region where we both have roots. The Scorpions have been a national name for a long time, and ‘Rike’ is taking their tradition to a new level. We’re excited to be part of that journey with them and we can’t wait to get to Florida in December and feature their teams on FloSports next summer.”