By Ben Rossi
June 5, 2021 saw news of a major league callup that made history. Griffin Jax, a Colorado native was called up by the Minnesota Twins. He became the first ever player out of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. to make the major leagues. He made his debut on June 8, and would go on to be a regular part of the Twins starting pitching rotation. Jax previously pitched with the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League’s Denver Generals. He is one of the many individuals who have played or coached in the league and gone on to make considerable accomplishments, on and off the baseball field.
Every summer since 2013, college players particularly around the Colorado area have flocked to various parts of the state to take part in this summer league. The league has slowly put itself on the map while refining various players and coaches in the development of their baseball careers.
Majors, Minors and College Success Stories
Several other recent members of the league saw action at the collegiate, minor league and big league levels over the past few years. The most notable has become a well-known name in Colorado sports, Colorado Rockies pitcher Kyle Freeland. Freeland was drafted in 2014 in the first round by the team and has been a constant part of their pitching rotation for the past several seasons. In 2018 he had a stellar 17-7 record with a 2.85 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. While attending the University of Evansville, Freeland pitched for the Denver Titans, a team formerly part of the MHCBL.
Another former Generals pitcher active in the big leagues is Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.D. Hammer. Hammer was originally a Rockies draft pick in 2014. He had a successful Rookie A-Ball season winning Pitcher of the Year honors with the Grand Junction Rockies. In 2017, Hammer was traded along with two other prospects to the Phillies for reliever Pat Neshek. Neshek would go on to help the Rockies in their postseason run. Hammer meanwhile make his major league debut on May 26, 2019 and so far has pitched in 40 big league games, all of which in the 2019 and 2021 seasons.
Several league alumni have made big contributions to various Division I baseball programs including Bellarmine, East Carolina, Gonzaga, Quinnipiac, Stephen F. Austin, Wichita State among others. At the Division II level, the State of Colorado is home to eight of the nine schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). This conference has had a good chunk of players from across the league on their teams. Some of these players have come out of the Northeastern Junior College baseball program, in Sterling Colo. under the watch of current head coach Andrew Kachel.
MHCBL Coaches and Mentors
Kachel previously coached the MHCBL’s Colorado Springs Renegades and Cutthroats.
“At the time for me as a young coach it was a great opportunity to expand my wings, have the opportunity to be a first time head coach, learn and grow,” said Kachel. The results of Kachel’s player development at the collegiate level speak for themselves as 100% of the players he has coached have gone on to play at four year colleges/universities.
Several of the RMAC coaches have ties to the league as well like Batters Box coach Paul Koss, who is the head coach at Colorado Christian University and former Titans coach Robby Bales who is the head coach at Colorado School of Mines. Former Greeley Grays coach Nick Childs has taken his coaching to the minor leagues, as he currently serves as the pitching coach for the Biloxi Shuckers, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The league alumni know that this league along with baseball in Colorado have a great deal of potential to grow.
“I think Colorado college baseball is extremely underrated,” Kachell added. “Colorado Mesa, School of Mines, Metro, CCS they’ve all been extremely competitive and nationally ranked in the RMAC in the national level throughout the last handful of years.”
Denver, Colo. is home to FAST Performance, a sports training facility that helps athletes develop at rigorous levels. The organization has a department that specializes in training for pitchers. It is led by current league vice-president and former Rockies pitcher Jason Hirsh.
“We’re a data driven analytics athletic baseball training facility,” said FAST pitching instructor Cole Thomas. Thomas pitched five seasons in the MHCBL for the Colorado Cyclones, who won three league championships in his time with the team.
“The thing that influenced me the most in the MHCBL was this dedication to development,” Thomas added. “They gave you opportunities to refine your skills. There are few better places to play summer baseball than Colorado, the weather’s always nice, you gotta build a community around it.”
As the league continues it’s steady growth, it will look to create more great stories out of it. Stories like that of Thomas or other former players and coaches going on to big careers.