By Jeff Hensley
According to Forest Park baseball skipper Michael Breedlove, only about one percent of high school athletes receive an athletic scholarship to compete on the collegiate level.
With that statistic in mind, Forest Park pitcher Michael Oliver's signing with Gadsden State in Gadsden, Ala. makes the fifth player Breedlove has sent on to compete at the collegiate or professional level in just three years at Forest Park.
"Michael (Oliver) started the first playoff game for Forest Park in 20 years as just a freshman," Breedlove said of his pitcher.
Breedlove's Panthers have enjoyed success since then, compiling an impressive 56-25 record over the last three years, and, under the leadership of Breedlove and a group of talented players such as Oliver, the team has not missed the playoffs in that time, capturing two region titles along the way.
Oliver joins Forest Park's Cody Garner and Cordaryl and Antonio Kendrick as recent players to receive college scholarships, while pitcher Josh Froneberger turned down a scholarship from the University of Georgia after being drafted by the Colorado Rockies last year.
"It's rewarding to see them move on, but remember even the guys who aren't playing ball in college are going on to do big things. Whether it's college or being a good father or member of the community, we're turning out good individuals and that's what it's all about - that's our goal," Breedlove said following Oliver's signing Tuesday at the Forest Park High School Media Center.
It is just that line of coaching which has kindled a fire in Oliver not only to continue playing baseball, but pursue a degree in secondary education and one day become a coach when his playing days are over.
"Coach (Breedlove) really taught me the fundamentals of baseball," said Oliver. "He has been a great inspiration in my life."
Oliver still plans to pursue baseball beyond Gadsden State, a two-year college, and hopes to perhaps play at the professional level in the near future.
Michael's feeling about his coach appears to be mutual. Breedlove says Oliver, "has a great demeanor and his work ethic carries over on and off the field.
He's probably the best student athlete we've had and he's a great example for the younger guys on the team."
The Forest Park senior, once a multi-sport athlete, followed a recent trend in prep sports when he gave his undivided-athletic attention to baseball a few years back.
Oliver also hurt his knee playing football before dedicating his talents to baseball exclusively.
The Forest Park pitcher wasn't taking any chances after that.
"I played football for a while, but I gave it up to follow my dream in baseball," Oliver said.
Breedlove says Oliver has the talent to not only jump to the Division I level, but could definitely follow up on his dreams to make a bid to play as a pro.
"Coach (Bill) Lockridge has sent several guys to the majors," said Breedlove of the 24-year Gadsden State coaching veteran.
"Michael will get some good pitching instruction under Lockridge and his staff and you just never know from there - the sky is the limit."