Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

For his country and baseball


Published:   |   Updated: January 6, 2014 at 02:13 PM

SEBRING - Choosing Navy was easy for Jordan Baker. It's the training that will be difficult.

The Sebring senior will have arguably the toughest regimen in the country when he joins the Midshipmen next year.

"It's an hour and a half workout each morning," Baker said. "And that's before breakfast."

Surrounded by his family and coaches at Firemen's Field on Saturday morning, the senior Blue Streaks pitcher inked a scholarship to play baseball for the Midshipmen.

"This is great," said former Sebring math teacher Alan Kent. "I've been doing this since 1982, and this is the first time we've sent a player from Sebring to the Academy on an athletic scholarship. We're really proud of Jordan."

Kent, who is also a Blue & Gold Officer for the Naval Academy, helps oversee admissions for students who come from parts of Hardee, DeSoto, Polk, and Highlands counties.

Kent's well aware of how intense the training can be.

"Run five miles a day," he said. "That's the advice I'd offer him."

"If he does that he'll survive the summer. That's the biggest shock to the athletes once they get out there, how intense the training is. They also do an hour of calisthenics, all before they even eat breakfast. And this runs for seven weeks."

And athletes are spared no pity because of their status.

"They still have the five-year commitment after they graduate," Kent said. "And they still have the same horrendously difficult classes. No matter what they major in, they'll minor in engineering and take the national engineering exam in their senior year."

"And including the teams, the Academy has a passing rate of 95-98 percent."

Baker isn't fretting too much about what Navy calls the "Plebe summer," though.

"A lot of the guys I've talked to told me a lot of it's mental," he said. "A lot of people that go have the physical aspect down, but you really have to be able to push yourself through the tough times and strive to finish. But I'm still getting myself physically prepared - doing pushups, situps, and running."

But Baker knew the physical expectations long before he committed to Navy. His reason for joining the Academy reaches beyond athletics.

"Education-wise, I felt as if there was no better choice for me than Navy," Baker said. "I also felt that there was no better option for me in developing myself as a person."

Most Navy graduates have little trouble finding a job after they leave the Academy. Baker said that factored in as well.

"Being able to come out of college with a job, something to do right away, I felt there was no better option for me to be successful and improve myself."

Even with all the academics, there's still room for baseball. One of the major advantages of signing with Navy means Baker has a chance to have an immediate impact on the team.

"I think I'll have a chance to pitch right away," Baker said. "I'll be able to develop with coach Ryan Mau and head coach Paul Kostacopoulos - two great men and great coaches who I'd love to play for."

All of this will have to wait, though, as Baker's senior season is still on the horizon. Under first-year coach Jason DeWitt, the Streaks are hoping to make a deep playoff run. It should help that DeWitt, who came over from Lake Wales in the summer, coached Baker on travel ball teams.

"The first thing coach DeWitt said when he came in here was, 'we're playing in Jet Blue Stadium,'" Baker said. "That's where the state championship is."

Baker added that having signed with Navy alleviates some of his anxiety about life after high school.

"It helps to know that there's a place for me. I'm ready. So I just want to work hard, get better every day and finish the season strong."

The Streaks open the season in Lakeland on Feb. 13 against the Dreadnaughts.

bhoward@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5841

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