By Chad Wingert
CASS CITY — One journey has come to an end for Cass City’s Morgan Erla. But, in just a few months, another journey will begin.
On Thursday, May 3, Erla took the next step in his baseball career by signing on with Bethel College in Indiana.
“This has been a long journey of keeping up with coaches and contacting people. But, it’s one of those things where you just sit back and wait for the perfect opportunity. That opportunity came along and I decided to take the offer. It’s a very exciting day,” Erla said after inking his deal Thursday.
Erla’s scholarship comes as a result of a lot of off season work, a lot of petitioning and a lot of e-mails to college coaches. But a few years ago, Erla teamed up with Larry Gilbert of College Prospects of America, which helped him get noticed by even more schools.
“(Larry) did a great job of helping me get noticed. In between homework, games and other sports, I was always keeping my eye on baseball and weighing my (college) options,” Erla said.
Along with Bethel College, some of Erla’s options included Aurora University in Illinois, Mott Community College, St. Clair Community College and a few other out of state colleges. But after a visit to Mishawaka, IN and a lot of thought, Erla knew that Bethel was the perfect fit for him.
Erla also received a little pull from head coach Nathan Haag and teammate Kyle Hanby, who each have Bethel ties.
“A lot of those colleges were so far away. This is kind of a medium drive home, about four and a half hours. Distance was a big factor and I thought this one worked out well,” said Erla.
“But, I am going into nursing and they have a great program for that. I know some people who have went through that program and are now successful, one being coach (Nathan) Haag’s wife. Kyle Hanby will also be going there to play tennis.”
“It’s a small, nice college that also fits in with my morals. Really, all of these things were factors in me choosing Bethel.”
It’s rare that a player of Erla’s talent and size comes through the high school baseball ranks. That’s why, when Bethel head coach Seth Zartman became aware of Erla’s quest to play baseball at the college level, he moved quickly.
“As soon as I heard about Morgan, we saw his tape and found out he was looking for a nursing program so we gave him a call and got him down here for a visit. I just really enjoyed talking with him when he and his father came down. It usually doesn’t happen this fast. It’s been a quick turnaround. But anytime you can get something like this to fall into place, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.” Zartman said.
“The first thing that I recognized in Morgan was his athletic ability. After that, it was his size. We are really impressed with his size, but I think his athletic ability was what was key for us. We are in a situation right now where we are trying to boost our lineup a little bit. I felt like we were a little short on the side of position players this year. So, we just felt like he is going to fit in nicely with what we are trying to do. He has a great work ethic and he’s a great kid. When you add those things up, he’s a great fit for us at Bethel.”
Zartman and the Pilots, who are currently 19-35 for the 2012 season, are hoping that Erla can bring a pinch of versatility to their lineup. Before even setting foot on campus, Zartman said that he is looking to get Erla innings at both first base and, his current position with the Red Hawks, shortstop.
“He is that type of kid who could probably play any position we put him at. At our level, we want to put the best nine guys on the field. But, in case of an injury, it is nice to have someone like Morgan who can play numerous positions,” Zartman said. “One of the biggest challenges that kids have coming into college is adjusting to the speed of the game. You are coming from a high school team where there are two or three guys who may be the big dogs. But, when you come to our level, you are amongst a whole team of guys who have been the big dogs in the past. But when you take someone like Morgan, who has played some traveling ball, the transition usually isn’t as bad because they play pretty good competition during the summer.”
With Erla having his sights set on a nursing degree, his plate will be a bit more full than that of a typical student-athlete. However, Erla says he is excited and anxious to jump into his college responsibilities head first.
“One of the things Morgan will need to adjust to is the overall conditioning. He will now be focusing on one sport and one sport only. We will be working these guys for nine months out of the year. So, I think that will be a big adjustment,” Zartman said. “The third thing would have to be time management. Taking care of the classes, along with being an athlete, can be a challenge for some kids. With Morgan’s aspirations of becoming a nurse, he’s going to have a tough career as a student-athlete. But I think he’s the type of kid who will handle it really well.”
Erla added: “I’m looking forward to taking on the responsibilities of focusing on baseball, working out and being able to perform at a high level. I’ve played a lot of summer ball with some good competition and now, I’m really looking forward to taking that step into the next level.”