A left-handed ace for the Lawrence High baseball team, senior pitcher Garrett Cleavinger had options when it was time to pick his college destination.
He could stay right here in town, and play for Kansas University, in the Big 12. He could migrate a few hours northwest and play for Nebraska, in the Big Ten.
Then there was Door No. 3: Oregon. Way out in Pac-12 country, in the Pacific Northwest.
Choosing the right program was a difficult decision. LHS baseball coach Brad Stoll could see it weighing on Cleavinger.
“He had a lot of great offers out there from a lot of great universities and programs. I didn’t envy him, man,” the coach said.
Wednesday, however, Cleavinger was the envy of a throng of students in the LHS library after school, where he made his decision official by signing with the Oregon Ducks.
The 6-foot-1 pitcher strolled up to a table wearing a gray Oregon T-shirt and received a huge round of applause from his fellow students, many donning Ducks gear of their own.
After putting his name on the dotted line and making it official, he stood up and thanked them all, as well as friends, family and LHS staff, for coming.
“It’s a big deal, for me at least,” he said.
Cleavinger’s relationship with Oregon baseball began this past summer, in Tulsa, Okla., when he met one of the Ducks’ recruiting coordinators, assistant coach Mark Wasikowski. The LHS lefty hit it off with the assistant, and a few months back he visited the Eugene, Ore., campus and loved it.
“I was really comfortable around all the coaches, and the players were real nice and everything,” Cleavinger said.
He made his decision a few weeks ago and immediately felt relieved.
“It’s been a stressful process over the last year-and-a-half,” Cleavinger said. “It’s kind of nice to have a decision made and find somewhere that I fit, that I can belong.”
Cleavinger could turn out to be a great fit for Oregon. Right now, the Ducks only list one left-handed pitcher, junior Christian Jones, on their roster. With his 94 mph fastball, Jones is expected to be drafted before the two ever get a chance to become teammates, Cleavinger said.
That just might give the LHS product a unique opportunity.
“Just from talking to the coaches and knowing what I can do … I think I’m gonna go in and be a starter,” Cleavinger said.
The signing ceremony made the pitcher appreciative of all the years of baseball that led to the moment and made it possible.
“I’m always gonna remember playing with my little league team in Baldwin,” he said, adding that he has had “great memories” with the rest of the LHS baseball senior class.
Stoll said Cleavinger has meant a lot to the Lawrence baseball program during the past few years, with his ability to bring fire and energy to the mound and make major jumps in velocity and competitiveness. But the coach said the lefty still has work to do for the Lions.
“If he thinks it’s gonna be easy just because he signed Division I, it’s not over yet,” Stoll said with a grin.
Still, he couldn’t help, on Cleavinger’s signing day, but look ahead.
“It’s gonna be exciting to see what happens to him here in three or four years of college baseball,” Stoll said.
Other local athletes sign
Wednesday was a big day in the lives of three area high school athletes, two of whom signed to play at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
McLouth High senior Kendra Leach signed with UMKC softball, and De Soto High senior Mason Wedel signed with the Kangaroos’ men’s basketball program.
Jordan Baldwin, of Ottawa, signed with the women’s basketball program at Washburn University in Topeka.
An OHS classmate of Baldwin’s, Maggie Bones, is set to sign with Johnson County Community College volleyball on a yet-to-be-determined date.