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Tournaments | Story | 6/26/2019

From FTB to FAU

Cory Van Dyke     
Photo: Nolan Schanuel (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – For FTB Rockets 2020 head coach Mike Murray, his connection to Florida Atlantic University dates far back. Murray assiduously patrolled the dugout as a bat boy when his brother Pat was a two-way star for the Owls from 1988-1992.

Then in 2003, Murray got his chance to play for FAU. He later joined coach John McCormack’s staff, a man Murray says has known him since he was born, as a student assistant coach in 2016.

Nowadays, though, Murray is coaching the FTB Rockets 2020 team at the 2019 WWBA 17u Elite Round Robin. Along the way, he’s nurtured those relationships with McCormack, setting up a pipeline to the college in Boca Raton that’s under an hour away from where FTB is based in Jupiter. 

“It’s certainly a deep tie,” Murray said. “It’s a program that we’re fortunate enough to have in our backyard because it’s one of the best there is in terms of the way it’s run, the way the players are treated and the opportunities that come after their days at FAU. They turn a lot of guys pro. 

“Whenever they have interest in one of our guys, I tell our guys exactly how great it is. We’ve had some alumni who have gone through there, and they come back and talk to the guys. It’s a relationship we are lucky to have in all reality.”

In the middle of the FTB Rockets’ lineup out of the three-hole is FAU commit Nolan Schanuel. Schanuel, the No. 9 outfielder in Florida out of the 2020 class, features a 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame that already appears ready for the next level. To top that off, his smooth stroke from the left side has allowed him to collect four hits in eight at-bats so far this week.

“[Nolan] means everything to this team,” Murray said. “He comes to the park every day with the same attitude. He’s a positive kid, and he has fun doing this. It’s easy to watch him play because he’s not grinding, he’s not pressing. He’s fortunate enough to be committed and sort of have that weight off his shoulders, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him play. 

“He plays just as hard as he ever has. Guys look to him to see how they’re supposed to feel. If he looks confident, guys kind of take over that confidence from him. If he looks a little nervous, then they get a little nervous, but thank God he doesn’t look nervous too often.”

Schanuel says he tries to model his game after Mike Trout because he’s “always hitting bombs” and he credits his father as his personal pitching machine who has helped him get to this stage in his baseball career. He’s also one of four players on FTB’s roster who is currently committed to FAU.

“My favorite thing about Florida Atlantic was the coach, John McCormack,” Schanuel said. “He definitely persuaded me a lot in my decision. A couple of my teammates on the team committed there, and that was a big persuader as well.”

Among those other teammates eventually headed to FAU is catcher Dawson Ball

“It felt like a beautiful campus,” Ball said. “It felt like home. I just wanted to be there. Some of the best friends on my team are going to be there. I have memories with them here and I’m going to have memories there with them for the next four years.”

Ball is the only 2021 player listed on FTB’s roster. He undoubtedly demonstrated that he has what it takes to play up a level, mainly behind the dish throwing BB’s down to second to wipe out any potential runners. The No. 10 catcher in Florida for his class, Ball has also exhibited some major velocity on the mound, being clocked at 87 mph.

“Catch and throw wise, [Dawson’s] as good as you’re going to find,” Murray said. “He loves to throw, he likes to catch so he’s touching the baseball every few seconds. He’s a really special kid.

“He’s a year younger than most of the guys here. Physically, he’s just as mature as them. Mentally, he’s a strong competitor. He actually may be a little better on the mound than behind the plate. If we have him either behind it or on it, we feel pretty good about our chances.”

With a handful of players still uncommitted on FTB’s roster, Schanuel and Ball might actually be FAU’s biggest recruiters. They’re certainly not afraid to throw in a good word about the college that will one day be their home.

“Of course,” Ball said. “I want all my friends to come here.”

“I’m definitely pushing a lot of them to come play with us in college,” Schanuel said. “We just have a brotherhood. It’s always about being there and having each other’s back.”

So now the wait until the 2019 WWBA 17u National Championship is just two days away. The FTB Rockets 2020 will be one of 376 teams competing in the biggest tournament of the summer, and FAU certainly won’t be the only college in attendance checking out Murray’s squad.

It’s during this time that Murray is charged with making sure all his players are properly grounded.

“This week just brings so many opportunities for them to grow because of the amount of pressure placed on the uncommitted kids,” Murray said. “Really, our time is mostly spent not talking baseball as much as it is life, or just trying to calm them down, keep it loose, keep it light. Most of them, if they just do their thing, that’s enough and someone is going to like them. When you try to impress everyone in the park, it can go downhill real quick.”

So whether it’s guiding more players to reach their goals at FAU or some other college, Murray beams with enthusiasm at the opportunity presented to his team this week.

“All the visors and the fancy logos on the polo shirts can get a kid a little flustered, but all in all we’re really excited. Every year when it comes to this time of the year, you know you’re about to see the best around. It’s your opportunity to be the best.”

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