This is the latest installment of our spotlight on some top-caliber and high-character club baseball organizations that have helped Pathway Baseball establish a foothold in tournament offerings at 15u-18u.
Next up, we have Harold Simmons of the NoCo Roughnecks Baseball Club, based in the popular and ever-populating corridor of Boulder and north Denver. Simmons had uncles who played in the minor leagues, a sister who played fastpitch, a dad who played “old-man” ball, so he was always on a diamond. He played high school baseball in Arizona and had stints at three junior colleges in Missouri.
He got a taste for coaching in Missouri, then came to Colorado living at his uncle’s place one summer and coached a 12u team in Berthoud. Then had a 15u/16u team, then a Legion A team. At age 22, he became an assistant baseball coach at Longmont High School and attended the University of Northern Colorado. He ultimately became head baseball coach at Erie High School.
The Roughnecks started in summer 2014; there were nine teams in 2019, all high school ages and a college team. Simmons also is an assistant softball coach at UNC and is up to date on a lot of forces in youth and college fastpitch as well.
Q: After your playing career was done, who did you get into your version of club ball?
A: There was that early power struggle between keeping your high school guys and all of them going off to play club. In a school (Erie) of our size, 600 kids, we lose a few, the rest of the guys can’t play. We spent a couple of years trying to keep our guys together; as the struggle continued and picked up, we thought about something that looked like an old-school Legion type program combining Longmont (Trojans) and Erie (Tigers). We did it for our top team, then the next team we did it for a second team – they came up with a catchy name, the Trogers. We mixed the colors together. And it turned out other schools wanted to join. Mountain View and Loveland joined us in the fall; Mead High School, kids from the area, their high school coaches asked if they could play with us, and then keep their younger groups.
We are high-school coach friendly, we wouldn’t take guys unless their high school coach asked us to and it made sense for both of us. We rebranded (Nate Howell, my right-hand guy) – he had twin boys who played at Mountain View, heading to college, and he said he couldn’t afford them to play at a big club. Our first Roughnecks team had HS grads up and down the Front Range; the next year they were in college, so we started our own collegiate team, again all those guys and their buddies along the Front Range (and soon forming the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League). We finally said, let’s brand all the teams (primarily made of programs from the St. Vrain school district).
Q: What are some driving priorities for the Roughnecks?
A: As a head baseball coach, I was trying to build my program and make sure my guys were in good spots, being challenged and access to spots in college. You need a 17u tournament that makes sense, with colleges there that are going to recruit our guys. JUCOs, NAIA, D-II, the better fits for our Colorado players. We took them around, kept it affordable, $1000-$1500 but that includes the travel. It’s what we wanted to provide, it all started by building a club that could help high school programs and do right by the kids.
One hundred percent, our guiding philosophy is building toughness. We’ve got so many different kids from so many different high schools feeding in that we try to stay away from teaching the super integral pieces that are going to change from program to program. Can we help create toughness, and see the reality of what’s the good fit for you in college? So many kids head off to college and are bouncing back or going to a different school – we think some of that is a marketing piece, a (club) saying if I get this kid to a bigger school, then I can sell that, I can market that for the benefit of my club. That’s not our style; we want a good fit, and that it’s a happy home. Toughness and finding the right fit for kids …
Q: What’s been your impression of Pathway Baseball?
A: When I saw Triple Crown start to create this, it made me think of how they’d evolved in the softball world. That got me pretty excited. Triple Crown took over the UNC tournament, and we played in that and thought it was run well. We went to Phoenix and played in the Pathway’s first fall exposure tournament, and (Pathway director) Gino (Grasso) and Triple Crown delivered. There were 25 or 30 colleges, tons of coaches, and the right coaches, the right fit. Our guys were talking to right schools.
I’ll be honest – we’ve been all over the country, and you go to tournaments where they promise there will be college coaches there, and you might see one guy. We were frustrated. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a bit nervous about going to Phoenix … Gino delivered, and we were on board with Albuquerque as soon as it popped up, and he delivered again. If there were seven weekends, I’d play in seven (Pathway) events.