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Step for success

Canyon graduate returns to valley after a year with Cal State Northridge

Posted: February 22, 2009 11:59 p.m.
Updated: February 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Baseball player Matt Warr transferred to College of the Canyons from Cal State Northridge after one year with the Matadors. He left his scholarship behind, taking a step backward in order to take two forward.

Excitement. Reality. Confusion. Frustration.

Those were the four stages experienced by Canyon High graduate Matt Warr in one year.

The fifth stage is taking place at College of the Canyons where he is the team's starting third baseman.

A year ago, College of the Canyons was one of the furthest things away in Warr's mind.

He was cashing in the hard work from high school that led him to an NCAA Division I baseball scholarship at Cal State Northridge.

As a senior at Canyon, Warr put up monster numbers - a .452 batting average, 10 home runs, 37 RBIs, 22 extra-base hits and a .946 slugging percentage.

Before that season, the third baseman gained the interest of NCAA Division I colleges, with Cal State Northridge lining up first.

Then the process began.

"They saw me, I had an (official) visit four days later, then signed three days after that," Warr recalls.

It was a blur.

Before signing, Warr says he called other college coaches to gauge their interest, but no offers were made.

At the same time, he was getting pressure from CSUN.

"(The coaches would say), ‘We need an answer soon,'" Warr says. "They definitely try to rush you, make you feel like you're going to lose (the scholarship) maybe."

So Warr signed.

CSUN isn't unique in pressuring recruits.

With recruiting as competitive as it is throughout the country, colleges may have to move on quickly if they don't get their answer.

Nonetheless, Warr went into CSUN chomping at the bit.

That's where the excitement began.

"What I was told going in is that the game is the same (at the college level). The only thing that changes is the speed and size of the players. That what it," Warr says. "When I went to CSUN, I had to step up my game. I was ready for the challenge. I think I transitioned well."

Warr, then a freshman, started 23 games in the 2008 season. He played in 31.

He hit .272 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.

But reality hit, right in Warr's back.

A muscle strain set Warr back and he started to miss games.

While Warr was out, freshman third baseman Ryan Pineda took off.

Pineda ended up hitting .325 with six home runs and 32 RBIs and would eventually be named the 2008 Big West Conference Freshman of the Year.

Because Pineda cemented himself at third base, Warr was moved around, especially last summer.

"It was a constant battle between him and I this summer. They didn't really know what they were going to do with me," Warr says. "It was getting a little confusing."

One day he'd be at first base, the next in right field.

Confusion turned to frustration.

He encountered more setbacks.

An ankle injury, bruises - he says a coach referred to him as not injury-prone, but "nick-prone."

The fall semester came and Warr began to think.

He started to believe that CSUN wasn't right for him.

So he asked the baseball program for his release.

"I didn't leave just because I didn't think I wasn't going to start," Warr says. "(The frustration) was kind of, not only physically wearing on me, but emotionally draining on me."

Warr made the risky decision on his own, thinking another baseball opportunity would present itself.

"I would have told him that growing up, the best thing he could hope for was to get a scholarship playing baseball and everything else was icing on the cake," says Warr's father, Brian. "I told him he already had a sure thing. Now he's taking a chance."

Warr knew that.

And there are countless kids like him who go off to college, and for one reason or another, decide that it's not right for them.

But Warr's second chance came at College of the Canyons.

COC head baseball coach Chris Cota found out through an e-mail that Warr was available.

He brought the kid in.

Cota says just about every year he gets players who left Division I baseball.

This season, he has three.

In order to make it back to the Division I level, the NCAA mandates these players have to graduate from a two-year college and have one calendar year elapse after leaving the four-year school.

Cota adds that players should have patience, not only at the Division I level, but at the junior college level.

"I have to tell the kids here to be patient. A lot want it now," Cota says. "Kids get interest from four-year schools and think they're going to go in and play right away. But they have other (scholarship players). Patience is a valuable asset. I have to deal with that too. Two weeks into the season, I have kids saying, ‘Coach, what do I have to do to get in the lineup.' I say, ‘Be patient and keep working hard.'"

Warr still hasn't had a lot of time to look back.

He's just five games into COC's season, batting .250 with five RBIs.

But he thinks there are things he could have done differently.

Warr wishes he would have taken his time and waited for more offers to come in, despite the pressure.

He says maybe he should have taken the opportunity to make more official visits to other colleges.

Warr and Cota say there is already some interest from at least one Division I school.

"I took one step back," Warr says of his situation. "Maybe I'll go to a new school and take two steps forward."

He's hoping his stay at College of the Canyons will be the fifth stage - rejuvenation.


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