High School Sports

High school baseball: State College sophomore commits to Virginia

Ryan Karstetter has started only a handful of varsity games for the State College High School baseball team.

But before he begins his sophomore season with the Little Lions, Karstetter already knows he’ll be playing college baseball in one of the nation’s most prestigious conferences.

Karstetter orally committed to the University of Virginia this past weekend. The Cavaliers won out for Karstetter over several fellow Atlantic Coast Conference schools, who had also made scholarship offers for the versatile infielder.

“I’ve worked really hard for this,” said Karstetter, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder. “I’m glad things worked out. They’re very excited to have me. I can’t wait to get down there and get started, but it’s not for awhile though.”

So how does someone who by his own estimate has started only a half-dozen varsity games land a future spot on an ACC roster?

It’s all about more baseball once the varsity season is done.

Since he was 13, Karstetter has played with the Mid-Atlantic Canes summer program out of Altoona. That squad travels to tournaments and showcases in the Virginias, Carolinas and even as far south as Florida to play at spring training sites for major league teams and home stadiums for minor league clubs.

Exposure to the college programs and scouts in the summer is the key.

“You have to go where these people are,” said Ryan’s

father Mike Karstetter, a former standout at Penn State. “The colleges don’t get to see the kids play in the springtime because they’re running their own programs. They get one day a week off to scout and they’re probably looking at a kid a lot closer to their school than five hours north to look at our kids.

“What really happens is you have to go to them. You have to go out and play the summer ball and fall ball circuit. … It’s like a little machine that they’re putting together to give these kids a lot of exposure.”

It’s that exposure that yields dividends. College coaches see potential players at the tournaments, which often feature in the neighborhood of 25 teams. Scouts also find players to recommend to showcase events, which can feature 150 or more players working out for college coaches and other professional scouts.

“They go through a pro-style workout,” Mike Karstetter said. “They pick out the kids who can run, throw and hit or those who project for size, strength, etc. Eventually the talent shows on the field, no matter what field you’re on whether it’s baseball, basketball, etc.”

And coaches, especially for the big time programs such as those in the ACC, are always on the lookout for talent. And they can get their fill in one weekend.

“The head coach and the assistants are all there for three days,” Mike said. “It’s almost as important as a kid coming to the Penn State football camp. If they want to get exposure, they have to get on campus. A coach can see 100 kids if you go them instead of maybe two or three if they go on the road for a day.”

Ryan said the summer program paid dividends.

“It helped me a lot,” he said. “That’s where all of the coaches see you really. It’s hard for them to come up here. That’s what really works, not just for northern kids but kids from all around the country. … I was playing in a big stage at an early age and that really helps.”

Ryan said he received several offers from schools this past summer and has been mulling them since before deciding that Charlottesville, Va., would be his future home.

Virginia, under head coach Brian O’Connor, has been to the NCAA Tournament each year since 2005 with a pair of College World Series appearances in 2009 and 2011. The Cavaliers are rated No. 25 in Baseball America’s preseason rankings.

“All of the schools I looked at were great academically,” said Ryan, an honor student who plays third base and shortstop. “What put Virginia over the top was that I really felt comfortable there. It was a comfort level with the coaches, university and town. It just felt good overall. I’m happy I can be able to be a Cavalier.”

While Penn State did show interest, Ryan was determined to play in warmer weather.

“I wanted to play in the south,” he said. “Obviously we live here and Penn State is a great school academically and it has a great baseball program, but my goal was to play down south and it always has been.”

Ryan is especially excited to play at Virginia’s Davenport Field, which has been expanded to seat more than 5,000 fans. The Cavaliers have drawn more than 110,000 fans for each of the past three seasons.

“It’s going to be fun,” Ryan said. “We went down there and every game is amped up. Every pitch the fans are into it. I really can’t wait to play Miami, North Carolina and Florida State. It’s going to be a blast.”

Ryan also gets to follow in the footsteps of his father, who lettered two seasons at Penn State in 1985 and 1986. Mike Karstetter still holds one of the program’s top career batting averages at .365.

“He has a lot of great tips because he’s been there and knows what it takes to be successful at that level,” Ryan said. “Without a doubt, he helps me a lot.”

“We’re very happy for him,” Mike said. “He’s got a long way to go to get good, but this is a great start.”

Ryan appreciates the sacrifices his family has made for him to get the opportunity. In addition, he draws academic and athletic inspiration from his sister Meghan, a senior on the State College girls’ basketball team.

“I’m extremely thankful,” he said. “I know it’s not cheap to go to Georgia or Florida for a week just for me to play five or seven

games. I appreciate it a lot. Obviously without them, I wouldn’t be in this position. I thank them every day.”

“A kid is only gets to be a kid once and if their goals are set that way, I think we as parents will do whatever we have to do to help our kid,” Mike said. “It’s mostly drive time and lots of hotel stays. You hook up with another dad and his son sometimes and share expenses. Baseball is a blue-collar sport.

“The venues the kids get to play at ... they get to play in like a dream. They may never get the opportunity to play big league ball, but they can get on a big league field. It’s a great treat for the kids.”

Ryan, who also plays basketball for the Little Lions, is glad to have his decision made. “It’s just good now to focus on school, baseball and getting bigger, stronger and faster,” he said.

He joins former Little Lion teammate Saige Jenco (Virginia Tech) and current teammate Darian Herncane (Binghamton) who are on or will be on Division I rosters.

“There’s incredible talent up here,” Ryan said. “Some kids don’t get the opportunity. That’s the key. I’m just blessed to have the opportunity.”