Ball player off to Nebraska

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Preston Stanfill was set to meet with scouts to discuss his future in baseball. The scouts opened Stanfill's file, focused their eyes on Steamboat Springs and smiled warmly.

Stanfill knew what was coming next.

"They would say they vacationed here with their family and went skiing," Stanfill said. "It was disheartening to hear scouts talk about skiing when I wanted to talk about baseball."

So Stanfill decided to show off his arm in an effort to convince scouts and college coaches that he was serious about playing baseball. He pitched. He caught. He was only one of two players at the 2002 fall try-out in Denver that did both.

Several evaluators saw Stanfill's potential.

Jim Boeve, head coach at Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., called Stanfill weekly during his senior year and finally offered a scholarship that made Stanfill's decision to become a Bronco fairly easy.

Of course, the idea of joining a perennially successful program at a respected four-year institution helped.

"They play baseball the way it's supposed to be played," Stanfill said. "Everyone wants to be on the field. ... I can't remember the last time I played for a winning baseball team."

That's because Stanfill hasn't played on one, not since he was a little boy in the city leagues, anyway. But while his Little League teammates lost interest in baseball as they grew older, Stanfill did not.

Years of practicing on hardwood gym floors when snow covered the Steamboat fields couldn't make Stanfill give up baseball. Years of losing seemingly every game by the 10-run mercy rule didn't cause Stanfill to walk away from the sport either.

"People ask me all the time why I love baseball, but it's just a love of the game," Stanfill said. "I know it sounds so cliche, but I love everything about the game."

And that unwavering love is why Steamboat high school coach Sean Hicks was confident that some collegiate roster would have room for Stanfill.

"I never doubted Preston for a minute," Hicks said. "All he's wanted to do was play baseball."

During the fall season, or fall ball as it is commonly called, the Broncos played 36 games, the equivalent of two high school seasons in Steamboat.

During the spring -- the season that counts in collegiate baseball -- Hastings College, a member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference, has 56 games scheduled, a number that appears to awe Stanfill.

The Broncos open the season Feb. 7 and 8 with doubleheaders against Regis University. Hastings returns to Colorado on Feb. 21 and 22 and March 6 and 7 with games against Metro State and Colorado School of Mines.

Hastings College has a no-cut policy, so nearly 70 players practiced during the fall semester. Only 28 players make varsity, however, and though Stanfill's fall statistics weren't stellar, he received word before the holiday break that he will suit up as a varsity player this spring.

He was recruited as a catcher but will likely see most of his action on the mound, in the batter's box or somewhere else on the field.

"I was more excited than I've been in a long time," Stanfill said. "I read my name over and over again to make sure it was my name."

While Stanfill has proven he has the talent to play at the collegiate level, his coaches haven't forgotten Stanfill is from Ski Town U.S.A. Boeve had some advice for his versatile freshman player before he left for holiday break, and it had little to do with baseball.

"Coach hinted a couple times to be careful. I was so cautious skiing," Stanfill said. "It's hard to enjoy myself now. I can't wait to get back to play baseball."

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