In the end, it was out of Collin Strall’s hands.
He had taken all the risks he could take, eschewing so much conventional wisdom along the way. He skipped his junior and senior seasons of high school baseball at South Forsyth for his travel team. He left a lifetime of playing shortstop behind to pitch. He rejected scholarship offers from Division I programs for the junior college ranks.
At each step, Strall had calculated the risk, and it brought him to the moment where his chance to play college baseball for Louisiana State University, one of the haloed college baseball programs in the country, rested on the calculations from another player.
"They kind of told me where I stood," Strall said.
The terms for Strall were simple: If one of LSU’s junior pitchers was picked in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and signed, Strall would get his scholarship.
So when Tigers closer Joe Broussard was selected and agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the South Forsyth grad accepted LSU’s offer and brought an improbable journey to a compelling conclusion.
"The best way to describe it is a roller-coaster," Strall said. "It’s been crazy."
Strall had existed within the ambiguity of crazy and confident ever since he ceased playing for the War Eagles after lettering with the varsity baseball team his sophomore season. Instead, he played with Southern Prospect Baseball, Strall said, because it afforded him more one-on-one instruction.
During the summers he played with the Georgia Monarchs, a team of "scrappers," Strall said. Strall fit in as a diminutive 5-foot-10, 165-pound shortstop who had always been a year younger than his teammates.
Then, the summer before his senior year, one of the Monarch’s coaches, William Jackal, noticed Strall’s low arm-slot when he threw across the diamond and wondered how it might translate on the mound. With practice and tweaking, they found Strall was remarkably effective, enough that mid-major Division I schools like Tennessee Tech started offering scholarships.
But Strall’s travel ball coaches advised him to postpone his D-I plans. The discovery of Strall’s pitching ability was too new, they said. It needed more time to develop, they told him. Strall remembers them saying, "I think we can do bigger things."
"It was hard to make that decision," he said, "but I trusted my summer ball coaches."
Spurning the D-I programs, Strall went to Tallahassee Community College. Under head coach Mike McLeod, Strall flourished. He went 7-2 with a save in 24 appearances. He had a 2.54 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. He was versatile in middle- and long-relief appearances. He even made one start. He continued tweaking his mechanics – emphasizing lower-body strength – and eventually worked his fastball up into the low 90-mph range.
LSU first saw Strall with the Home Plate Chili Dogs in the Sunbelt Collegiate League, a summer league for college baseball players. Strall threw two innings, and LSU called that night asking if he’d make an official visit.
That was all Strall needed. Sure, he had been offered by Georgia, his parents’ alma mater, the school he always told friends he’d commit to in a heartbeat. Yes, Florida State had offered, too, the preeminent program in the ACC. But when Strall saw the frenzied atmosphere in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the Tigers hosted an NCAA Regional, he was convinced.
"They averaged 11,000 fans a game," Strall said. "And we went out there during the regionals when they average 15,000. It was unreal to see.
"There’s a huge family atmosphere there. The fans, the coaches, the players, it’s like one big family."
Now, Strall gets some semblance of orthodoxy.
There are no more risks to take, only pitches to throw for LSU for the next two years until he’s eligible again for the draft.
"I want to get to Omaha and win a national championship with LSU," Strall said. "I’m just going to do what I do and see what comes along."