Davenport has made MATC a baseball power
MADISON, Wis. — Trey Vavra held no interest in being told how talented he was as a baseball player after high school. So when other small-college coaches blew smoke at him during the recruiting process, fawning over his potential and insisting he could do no wrong, Vavra knew he needed to find a different coach and program.
He needed to find Mike Davenport and Madison Area Technical College.
Davenport, the coach at MATC since 2005, shot Vavra straight. If he worked hard for two years in Davenport's junior college program, Vavra could find a Division I scholarship. But he had plenty of areas to improve.
"I wanted to go to a program that wasn't OK with being good," Vavra said. "I wanted to be great. That's how you get better. Some of the other coaches told me how good I was, but they didn't say how you would progress from that. Coach D was talking about what I needed to work on."
For Vavra, a baseball perfectionist — his father, Joe, is the hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins, after all — the decision to attend junior college in Madison was easy.
Last season, Vavra's second with the program, he batted .407 — the second-best mark on the team — with 48 RBI and a team-best 60 runs scored. The year before, he hit .333 with 32 RBI and 35 runs scored. He is playing summer ball in the Northwoods League with Duluth (Minn.), collecting scholarship offers for Division I college programs.
Vavra, a Menomonie, Wis., native, is one of the many players to complete his two-year career at Madison College with markedly better baseball skills and a legitimate chance to impact an NCAA Division I program. It's no surprise, then, that Madison College has been one of the top junior college baseball programs in the country in recent years.
The WolfPack recently advanced to their third consecutive NCJAA Division II World Series. Madison College finished the season 45-13 and placed fourth, losing to top-ranked LSU-Eunice on May 31.
"Really, we just never gave up," said Vavra, a corner infielder who was named Defensive Player of the Year at the World Series for the second straight year. "We played some really good baseball at times and some pretty poor baseball at times. We're pretty adamant on winning and never giving up. I'd never been on a team like that. Usually if you play bad, you lose. We always found a way to turn it around at the end."
As a team this season, Madison College batted .332, while the pitchers held opponents to a .257 average. The pitching staff finished the season with a 3.69 ERA.
During the WolfPack's remarkable three-year World Series run, they are 134-44 overall (.752 winning percentage). Madison College has won at least 35 games every season since 2004.
"We've given ourselves a chance every year," Davenport said. "That's the main thing. When they walk in here, they should understand they have a legitimate chance to play and compete at the national level. I think it really starts with the expectations of what we're after in the fall. We demand a little bit of concentration."
Madison College's success can also be attributed, in part, to having a near monopoly on the junior college baseball circuit in Wisconsin. According to Davenport, only three junior colleges in the state — Madison College, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Western Technical College in La Crosse — offer two-year baseball programs.
The only other options for in-state players are to attend NCAA Division I Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Division II UW-Parkside or Division III schools in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The University of Wisconsin dropped its baseball program in 1991.
For players looking to improve their stock in a short period of time, few options are better than Madison College.
Davenport, a scout for the Chicago White Sox, has sent players to the University of Illinois-Chicago, Dayton, Valparaiso, Bradley, Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina State, LSU and Michigan State, among others. Several other players have gone on to play Division III baseball in the state of Wisconsin.
"The coaches really put in a lot of time, a lot of effort," WolfPack shortstop Ryan McShane said. "From maintaining the field to practice every day, they instill a good work ethic in the guys and really teach good fundamental baseball. It really rubs off on us. Once we learn and buy into the system, it shows. Everybody sees the results when all the guys buy into the system and trust it."
Davenport said he makes a point to develop players from within the state. Of the 26 players on Madison College's roster last season, 24 were from Wisconsin. The other two hailed from Illinois.
"I think the majority of players on this team should come from Wisconsin," Davenport said. "To me, it's another state option for these guys. We've got a bunch of guys going to extremely good four-year programs at all levels. I think we've become a different option for good students as well. They see the benefit of what can happen.
"Two years from now, there's no telling what kind of players these guys will be."
All indications suggest Vavra could serve as a perfect example.
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